Biden eyes student loan relief as Southerners bear $330 billion debt burden

There could be relief on the horizon for the millions of people with student loan debt across the country and in the southeast.

Recently, the incoming president and a top Democrat on Capitol Hill signaled a desire to address the student loan debt crisis.

During a recent interview with The.Ink, a politics newsletter, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he has a plan to cancel the first $50,000 in student loan debt, which be believes President Joe Biden, once he takes office, can approve through executive order rather than legislation.

Such an action would put a considerable dent in the $1.5 trillion of loan debt accumulated by students nationwide. Over $330 billion of that debt comes from the federal loans of 8.6 million people living in the southeast, according to June 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Education.

“I have a proposal with Elizabeth Warren that the first $50,000 of debt be vanquished, and we believe Joe Biden can do that with a pen as opposed to legislation,” said Schumer, who is awaiting the outcome of two election run-offs in Georgia that could change the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and make it easier for Biden and the Democrats to push through their legislative agenda.

Biden himself later said in a press conference Monday that he would take steps to reduce the burden of student loan debt as one of his first actions as president, telling reporters he would champion a pending U.S. House bill that aims to eliminate the first $10,000 of debt for those earning under $125,000.

While the average student loan debt in southeastern states isn’t the highest in the U.S., the average for the region — which has some of the nation’s lowest median incomes — is around $30,000, according to federal data. A vast majority of that debt is held by those aged between 25 and 49, data show.

On average, 16% of those with student loans are in default across the southeast, which rises to 20% among communities of color, according a late 2019 study by the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based public policy organization.

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