Joe Biden, at the time as former Vice President, speaks to a Connecticut crowd in 2018.
Joe Biden, at the time as former Vice President, speaks to a Connecticut crowd in 2018. Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut officials applauded on Wednesday President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive $20,000 in student loan debt for borrowers who went to college using Pell Grants and $10,000 in student loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year.

Aiming to make good on a campaign promise, the Biden administration unveiled a proposal to forgive $10,000 for most low and middle income borrowers or $20,000 for borrowers who attended college using Pell Grants. The plan also extends a pause on student loan payments through the end of this year. 

In a document published Wednesday, the White House said the policies would provide working families “breathing room” as student loan payments resume next year. 

“Today, we’re delivering targeted relief that will help ensure borrowers are not placed in a worse position financially because of the pandemic, and restore trust in a system that should be creating opportunity, not a debt trap,” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a former Connecticut education commissioner, said in a press release

According to statistics compiled by the Education Data Initiative, Connecticut has roughly 497,700 student borrowers with an average student loan debt of $35,162. That puts the state higher than the national average. All told, Connecticut residents carry roughly $17.5 billion in student loan debt, the initiative found. About 77,000 Connecticut students received Pell Grants, according to the initiative

Borrowers who are unsure of whether they received Pell Grants can verify their financial aid information through the U.S. Education Department’s National Student Loan Data System

In a press release, U.S. Rep. John Larson called Biden’s action a “vital first step” that will help constituents struggling with “crushing student loans debt.”

“Today, millions will breathe easier because President Biden has used his executive power to offer working-class Americans much-needed relief,” Larson said. “We will continue the fight in Congress to address college’s rising costs and ensure every American can access the education they need to provide for themselves and their family.”  

State Rep. Josh Elliot, a Hamden Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, said Biden’s announcement still left work undone for Connecticut’s policymakers. 

“Because the president isn’t going after every single last dollar of debt, I still think there is room for Connecticut to be working on a similar program going forward,” Elliot said. “It’s just a matter of really honing in on how much more to spend in the state.”

Although Biden’s plan will be implemented through executive order, it is likely to face challenges including from many Republicans who argue the policy is both unfair and likely to exacerbate inflation. 

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the plan “astonishingly unfair.”

“President Biden’s student loan socialism is a slap in the face to every family who sacrificed to save for college, every graduate who paid their debt, and every American who chose a certain career path or volunteered to serve in our Armed Forces in order to avoid taking on debt,” McConnell said.

Still, Elliot said he was glad to hear the administration’s plan because debt has made higher education an increasingly onerous decision for many students in Connecticut.

“As wages stagnate and college expenses explode, it’s becoming less and less a pathway to the middle class and more and more a pathway to burdensome debt,” Elliot said. “It just doesn’t work right now. I’m absolutely glad our president has implemented this program.”