Vice President Kamala Harris unveils more student debt relief measures in North Philly

The Biden administration expects the debt relief program will help 30 million people nationwide.

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Vice President Kamala Harris appears in front of a mic at a press conference

Vice President Kamala Harris at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, in Washington, March 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

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Philadelphia social worker Kelly Monique Gray wept as she shared what it meant for her student loans to be forgiven.

Gray shared her experience during a roundtable discussion in North Philadelphia’s Fairhill neighborhood. Through a combination of associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she carried around $350,000 in student loans. She even began a Ph.D program but couldn’t afford to finish it. She even took out loans for her daughters to pursue college.

For years, she couldn’t qualify to purchase a home, travel or save for emergencies, she said.

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When she first got the letter about her student loan forgiveness for being a public servant, she was skeptical.

“I didn’t believe it. I went on [the] FAFSA website. It was all zeros,” she said. “I called my daughter because she was so overwhelmed for not helping me. I never thought that I would ever, ever get this done.”

Vice President Kamala Harris joined U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans for Monday’s roundtable discussion on student loan debt forgiveness at William Cramp Elementary School with public service professionals.

Vice President Kamala Harris at William Cramp Elementary School.
Vice President Kamala Harris joined U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans for a roundtable discussion on Monday about student loan debt forgiveness at William Cramp Elementary School. Loan borrowers who had their debt forgiven joined the conversation. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

“Most people should not have to carry this kind of worry,” Harris said.

She shared new student relief plans that, if successful, could help more than 30 million borrowers.

About 23 million borrowers could see any accrued interest on their loans forgiven, about 4 million borrowers would see their entire student debt burden forgiven, and 10 million borrowers would get at least $5,000 in debt relief.

The plan includes automatic student debt cancellation for borrowers that:

  • Began entering repayment more than two decades ago.
  • Qualify for loan forgiveness under the Saving on a Valuable Education plan or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, but haven’t yet applied.
  • Have current balances higher than what they originally borrowed because of interest rates.
  • Enrolled in low-value programs.
  • Or are experiencing hardship because they are repaying loans.

Individuals in public service jobs, which often pay lower salaries than the private sector, often suffer the most, Harris said.

“Many are silently struggling with student loan debt. God knows we don’t pay them enough in the first place,” she said. “But so many of them nonetheless will choose to stay in these important roles because it is a calling for them.”

The Biden-Harris Administration prioritized reducing student loan debt but the initial student loan forgiveness plan was blocked by a 6-3 Supreme court ruling.

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In October 2023, the three-year-long freeze on federal student loan repayments ended and borrowers faced their loans once again.

The SAVE repayment plan has already forgiven about $45 million in student loans in Pennsylvania, $35 million in New Jersey and $5.3 million in Delaware, according to the Biden-Harris Administration.

William Cramp Elementary School teacher leader Tonya Cabeza’s $40,000 loans were forgiven in May 2023.

Cabeza said she was overwhelmed when she got the email about her student loan forgiveness.

“There was dancing. There were tears,” she said. “My life had changed. I had been at that point paying loans for 20 years already, I just really thought that was something that I would be paying until I died.”

Now Cabeza is able to help her eldest daughter who is in college now.

This is the second time Harris has visited Pennsylvania this year, and it’s the 12th visit since she took office.

In August, Harris announced changes to the way local prevailing wages for construction workers are calculated, which increased workers’ pay during a visit to Philly. In June, Harris met with unionized workers of the Service Employees International Union in Center City.

The Pennsylvania primary is happening on April 23. As a swing state, Pennsylvania has been under close watch for voter sentiment and is a key campaign battleground.

President Joe Biden opened a campaign reelection office in Center City last month.

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