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Student loan debt cancellation to impact hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians

The President's announcement will cancel $10,000 of student loan debt for eligible borrowers, and an additional $10,000 for Pell Grant recipients.

SEATTLE — Washington residents reacted to President Joe Biden's announcement on student loan debt Wednesday. It could potentially impact hundreds of thousands of borrowers in the state. 

According to US Department of Education data and federal officials, more than 782,000 borrowers in Washington state owe a total of $28.2 billion in federal student loan debt. Borrowers currently making under $125,000 are eligible for partial cancellation under the plan. Federal officials say more than 248,000 borrowers have balances of $10,000 or less. 

In a statement Wednesday, Senator Patty Murray called the move a "milestone moment for borrowers," noting additional support for extra relief for Pell Grant recipients. 

“These steps will lift stress off people’s shoulders, help borrowers make rent, provide for their families, and build for a better future—and will strengthen our entire economy," Murray wrote. She also called for the Department of Education and the White House to ensure easy access for people obtaining relief. 

Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers tweeted statements in opposition to the plan, writing that "pretending President Biden can make debt disappear with the stroke of a pen defies all logic and basic economics." She went on to say that "hardworking families can’t afford the taxes and higher costs that come with this radical plan."

Fadi Hamade owns a business near the University of Washington. He does not currently owe student loan debt, but expressed support for the announcement and the impact it will have for students who've accumulated debt.

"I'm always happy for anything that can help. You don't have to only help big corporations only, right?" Hamade said with a laugh. "Students need help, too."

Lucy Barcott says she studied studio arts and graduated during the pandemic. She found that the paths that existed for her teachers in the art world were not feasible today. While she believes college was a great investment, the economic challenges of keeping up with loans while trying to build her career has been difficult. She would like to see full loan forgiveness -- but she'd also like to see structural changes so that the economy empowers a full range of disciplines. 

"I work full-time retail, I work 40 hours a week and I'm lucky to have enough spare time on top of that to make art, but it's not a reality that is discussed enough," Barcott said. "We live in a country that doesn't support artists and it will continue to not support artists while we are beholden to the needs of large capital."

Still, Barcott says the announcement will wipe out about half of what she has taken out -- so while it's not everything, it will make a significant dent. 

"The backlash is going to be the same no matter what so I wish the President had had the courage to actually cancel the whole thing and make it a real, true debt jubilee which is something I think we're incredibly overdue for in this country."

Jack Lue and Tommy Zhao are just beginning their college educations. 

"Every year you hear about tuition rising up, no matter where you are," Lue said. "Especially for those who want to go to graduate school or Ph.D.'s, those costs get even higher."

They hope that along with this announcement, more action will be taken to make college affordable overall.

Along with support for cancellation and pushes for further debt relief, some Washingtonians voiced opposition to the plan, including the Washington GOP. 

Meanwhile, Washington Democrats called it a "crucial step forward in relieving students and families from debt."

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