Nearly 700,000 Washingtonians are eligible for President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program, with the majority of them Pell Grant recipients, according to an estimate the White House released Tuesday.
In Washington state, as of March, nearly 783,000 residents hold $28.2 billion in outstanding federal student loans. Nearly half are burdened with federal loans of more than $20,000, and over 77 percent are under the age of 50.
Last month, Biden announced his administration will cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those earning under $125,000 a year or households that earn less than $250,000.
Pell Grant recipients or undergraduates with the most significant financial need are eligible for up to $20,000 in debt relief, according to the plan.
Nationally, the White House estimates nearly 20 million people eligible for the student debt relief could see their remaining balances erased entirely.
In Washington state specifically, 697,600 residents with student debt are eligible for loan forgiveness, with 61 percent, or 423,800, Pell Grant awardees — lower than the national average of 64 percent.
In 2019-20, about 23 percent of Washington students received federal student loans.
“The student debt relief plan will help borrowers and families continue to recover from the pandemic and prepare to resume student loan payments in January 2023,” White House officials said in a statement. “Nearly 90 percent of relief dollars will go to those earning less than $75,000 per year — and no relief will go to any individual or household in the top 5 percent of incomes in the United States.”
Since 1980, the cost of a four-year college degree has nearly tripled, even after accounting for inflation, though federal support has not kept up, White House officials said last month.
Pell Grants once covered nearly 80 percent of the cost of a four-year public college degree for students from working families, but now only cover a third.
“That has left many students from low- and middle-income families with no choice but to borrow if they want to get a degree,” the administration said, adding that the typical undergraduate student with loans now graduates with nearly $25,000 in debt, according to a Department of Education analysis.
In Washington, about a quarter of undergraduate students received a Pell Grant in 2019-20, lower than the national average of 34 percent.
The average grant amount for undergraduate students in the state was $4,383.
In 2019-20, the household income of nearly 90 percent of grant recipients was less than $50,000, with 80 percent reporting less than $40,000, according to a Seattle Times analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education.
Nearly 71 percent of Black undergraduate borrowers and 65 percent of Hispanic undergraduate borrowers are Pell Grant recipients, according to the White House, which said it hopes to “help narrow the racial wealth gap” by targeting relief to those with the highest economic need.
In the coming weeks, the Department of Education will release more details on how to access the student debt relief plan. For more information, visit studentaid.gov/debtrelief.