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Connecticut residents say federal student loan forgiveness is 'impactful'

President Joe Biden speaks about student loan debt forgiveness in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Washington. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona listens at right.
Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden speaks about student loan debt forgiveness in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Washington. At right is Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Marina Rodriguez was overwhelmed with joy when she heard President Joe Biden’s announcement on Wednesday that he is forgiving up to $10,000 in student loan debt for qualifying borrowers and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.

“When my co-worker told me about it, I just jumped up and screamed,” said Rodriguez, director of the national nonprofit All Our Kin based in New Haven. “It seems like a Band-Aid, I know, but $10,000 is a lot of money for a lot of people.”

Biden also extended the pandemic pause on student loan payments that was set to expire next week until Dec. 31.

The relief comes to thousands of Connecticut borrowers. Among the state’s 497,700 borrowers, the total amount of student loan debt adds up to $17.5 billion, according to the Education Data Initiative. The average student loan debt is $35,162. About 2.1% owe more than $200,000, and 15.6% owe less than $5,000.

Rodriguez, who is also a member of the Connecticut-based nonprofit Student Loan Fund, grew up in a low-income New Haven neighborhood. She said trying to get out of that environment was difficult, but she was able to do it through education. Although it came at a cost of roughly $107,000 in student loans.

“I didn’t go through the traditional transition of going to college because I was raising my son and had to take care of my family,” she said. “I would go to school on the weekends so I can work the rest of the week.”

After getting her graduate degree in 2009, Rodriguez began her loan payments at $677 per month. She’s made about 70 payments since and the pandemic pause gave her some time to breathe.

With the loan forgiveness and payment extension, Rodriguez said the feeling is liberating.

“It’s a big burden for us as a family and the cancellation means getting us out of poverty, and building some family wealth that we still don’t have access to because the loan burden lingers,” she said.

There are still eligibility restrictions based on income. It’ll apply to borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year or $250,000 for married couples.

Still, for Jennifer Jaramillo, a Danbury resident who works in public relations, the loan forgiveness is impactful.

“I just think about how long it would take to save that amount,” she said. “I’m just so happy to hear that it’s happening — $10,000 is a big deal.”

Jaramillo got her bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree from Quinnipiac University. She has about $80,000 in student loans and has been making payments since 2014.

“The majority of my friends and family are also in the same boat,” Jaramillo said. “We’ve been struggling and trying to figure out how to pay our loans.”

She said she had hoped the president would cancel all student debt, as all the money will stimulate the local economy.

“People will be able to purchase houses or invest back in the economy,” Jaramillo said. “People would be able to excel in their career, or move forward, buy cars, whatever it may be. This is all revenue that will just go back into the economy.”

Catherine is the Host of Connecticut Public’s morning talk show and podcast, Where We Live. Catherine and the WWL team focus on going beyond the headlines to bring in meaningful conversations that put Connecticut in context.
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