Although a slew of benefit packages have been put in place for District residents, student debt has been largely excluded from coronavirus legislations — leaving new and former Black graduates facing an albatross of student debt obligations paired with pandemic-related hardships.
Many Black graduates are entering into an uncertain period of economic recession amid the pandemic as unemployment levels have skyrocketed. Student advocacy organizations are working to support minority graduates who are often juggling the financial burdens without assistance or advice.
“We can’t win if people are alone in their isolation and alone in their shame — so the process of actually politicizing the experience of having debt and moving folks out of that has been the experience for me,” said Adiel Pollydore, program director of Student Action, a national organization advocating free college for all and the cancellation of student debt.
WatchMarket recently reported Black graduates between the ages of 21 and 24 are earning $3.34 less per hour than their white counterparts. The lower pay rates alone are a crisis within a crisis, as many Black residents in D.C. face evictions, job loss, and numerous other health emergencies.
In March, Congress passed the CARES Act, which not only halted loan payments until Sept. 30, but also prevents the accumulation of interest. However, state lawmakers and former presidential candidates have been actively working to address remedies for minority students suffering far more than their counterparts.
“There’s some checks and balances that we must do, and we need to always go back and review those things that we’ve done. They may have become outdated, and not useful anymore,” said Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.). “But there’s one thing that we cannot do, and that’s nothing.”
After the CARES Act was passed, Adams began to champion the Equity and Student Loan Debt Relief Act, which calls for the Department of Education to make the interest payments for all borrowers in the Federal Family Education Loan program, while also entering into agreements with the program’s current loan holders to suspend student loan payment obligations, and cease all involuntary collections through Sept. 30.
Federal loans are utilized by 86.6% of Black students, compared to 59.9% of white students.
“So many young people’s lives have been defined by moments of crisis after crisis after crisis, and this is just another one of them,” Pollydore said.