By Rep. Veronica Escobar

President Biden’s decision to forgive $10,000 in student loans for individuals earning less than $125,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients will be life-changing for many El Pasoans, and while we have to address the root causes of deep economic inequity, this was an important step in the right direction.

Rep. Veronica Escobar

The Biden-Harris administration’s three-part plan to provide targeted student loan debt relief addresses current payment concerns exacerbated by the pandemic, reforms the student loan system for current and future borrowers, and protects borrowers from future steep increases in college costs.

In addition to the millions of families that will benefit from this plan across America, I urge you to consider the positive impacts this plan will have on El Paso. Did you know that over half of the students in our region’s largest university, the University of Texas at El Paso, receive Pell Grants? Additionally, about a third of the undergraduate student population had accepted federal student loans for the 2020-2021 academic school year.

There are thousands of El Pasoans who – before the pandemic – were unable to build their wealth by purchasing homes, putting away money for retirement, or starting a business because of crushing student loan payments. 

Nationwide, almost a third of borrowers have debt but no degree, not because they’re a “slacker barista who wasted seven years in college studying completely useless things” as one Republican senator suggested, but because they couldn’t afford to finish school because the cost was too high

Additionally, about 16% of borrowers are in default (almost a third of them are senior citizens with student loan debt). For these borrowers, especially seniors, student loan debt default results in a significant drop in credit scores. Imagine working your entire life to try and build credit only to have it drop off because of unaffordable high monthly payments and ballooning balances.

The second part of the three-part plan is to make the student loan system more manageable for current and future loan borrowers. The Department of Education is capping monthly payments for undergraduate loans at 5% of a borrower’s discretionary income, half the current rate most borrowers pay now. More reforms included in this plan address other ways to pay for college, such as adding a rule to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that ensures participants are receiving accurate credit.

President Biden has committed to helping protect current and future borrowers from steep increases in college costs. By increasing Pell Grant awards and holding accreditors and universities accountable, future borrowers have more data to make informed decisions about taking out loans.

I understand that some may be upset and consider this relief unfair. In fact, some of the loudest objectors to student loan debt relief were benefactors of loan forgiveness of the Paycheck Protection Program (see: The White House’s thread on Twitter). Many of my colleagues from across the aisle, especially in the Senate, have opposed this plan and are proudly sharing how they paid for college themselves – even though their tuition was significantly more affordable and they themselves have taken advantage of PPP loan forgiveness. 

I do agree with those critics who point out that federal funding for higher education has not kept up over the decades and this must be addressed. For now, the relief provided by the Biden-Harris administration will help until we can introduce real solutions and the myriad of other reforms that must also be made. 

For more information, visit my page on how to lower costs on my website.

Veronica Escobar represents Texas’ 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.