VP Kamala Harris in Philadelphia to tout Biden administration’s latest student debt relief proposal

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PHILADELPHIA — Social worker Kelli Gray fought back tears Monday as she recalled the moment she realized her student loan debt had been forgiven.

“I went on the FAFSA website and it was all zeroes,” Gray said. She had $350,000 worth of debt forgiven as a result of the programs already put in place by the Biden administration. She said with the debt forgiven, she was able to get approved to purchase a house.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited a school in Philadelphia on Monday to highlight the Biden administration’s latest student debt forgiveness proposal

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“The president and I continue to do, and will do, much more to build on this work,” Harris said during the roundtable at William Cramp Elementary School. “We want to create incentives for people to acquire the kinds of skills like the professionals at this table have, to do the work that they do, that benefits so many others and benefits all of us as a nation.”

President Joe Biden announced the latest plan in a trip to swing state Wisconsin on Monday. The plan would include a one-time cancellation of all accrued interest for 23 million borrowers, cancel the full amount of student loan debt for 4 million borrowers, and provide at least $5,000 in student debt relief for more than 10 million borrowers.

“President Biden will use every tool available to cancel student loan debt for as many borrowers as possible, no matter how many times Republican elected officials try to stand in his way,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.

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Harris was joined by U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) and school district workers who detailed their personal experiences of having student loan debt forgiven.

“To say I was stunned [is] a total understatement,” said Tonya Cabeza, a school-based teacher leader at Cramp Elementary School, recalling the moment when she found out her student loan debt had been forgiven. There were tears and dancing in the kitchen as she was cooking dinner for the family when she found out the news last May, Cabeza added. She had more than $40,000 in debt forgiven.

After paying those loans for 20 years and thinking she’d be paying them until she died, Cabeza said, she now can help her daughter, a college student, as she pursues a career in education.

“I honestly thought I’d be paying my loans forever,” said Beth Whalen, a school nurse at Richmond Elementary School. “I was very exhausted and stressed, so when I learned of the public loan service forgiveness program, I was very relieved and applied for it.”

Whalen said that she had $65,000 of student loan debt forgiven and now for the first time in years doesn’t have to work over the summer and can take care of her mother, when in years past she had to work extra hours to make ends meet.

Harris said that many are “silently struggling with student loan debt” and said those who want to pursue careers in public service shouldn’t have to worry about paying their bills and pursuing their calling.

“When President Joe Biden and I and our administration decided to do this, it really was, yes, about the individuals who are here, but I have to keep emphasizing that everyone is benefiting because of the work that you each do,” Harris said. “We want you to stay in these jobs, doing this work, we need you to stay in these jobs doing this work.”

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Harris said that the Biden administration has forgiven over $144 billion of student loan debt for over 4 million people, while forgiving an average of $70,000 of student debt for more than 850,000 public servants.Harris encouraged those with student loans to go to studentaid.gov to see if they are eligible for debt forgiveness.

Harris’s visit was part of a larger push by the Biden administration to highlight the plan, which saw Harris’s spouse, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, visit Phoenix, Arizona, and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona traveling to New York City to meet with borrowers who had benefited from student debt relief, the White House said. 

Although younger voters support proposals to cancel student loan debt, the Biden administration’s efforts have received pushback in the courts. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Biden administration did not have the legal authority to enact a student debt program aimed at assisting 40 million Americans.

Evans praised Biden and Harris for their leadership on the issue. 

“You … do not let the Supreme Court get in the way when you think there needs to be something done right for workers and middle class people,” Evans said.

According to the Federal Reserve, about 43.5 million Americans have student loan debt, which totals $1.73 trillion.

Monday was Harris’ 12th visit to the Keystone State since being sworn in and her second appearance so far in 2024. 

In February, Harris visited Pittsburgh to highlight the Biden administration’s $5.8 billion funding towards lead pipe removal and clean water projects. The funding for that project, which includes more than $200 million in Pennsylvania, is part of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

Update: This story was updated after publication with additional details from the vice president’s event.

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