‘Should I have even gone to college?’: Why Philly borrowers want Biden to cancel student debt

More than 50 community organizers and student borrowers rallied in front of President-elect Joe Biden’s Center City headquarters Monday evening to demand he cancel all federal student loan debt.

The event was hosted by the Pennsylvania chapter of the Debt Collective, a national movement pushing Biden to cancel all student debt by executive order on his first day in office.

Protesters gathered outside President-elect Biden’s Philadelphia headquarters demanding debt cancellation Monday night. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Student debt is a plague really that’s hampering and burdening the lives of 45 million people across the country, especially in communities of color,’ said Debt Collective organizer Chris Casuccio.

Casuccio and other local organizers say cancelling student debt would be especially helpful to a city like Philadelphia where residents have higher debt loads than the rest of the country.

Last year, a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia report looked at December 2018 student loan debt in the City of Brotherly Love. It found more than a quarter of Philadelphians held student loan debt, compared to 17% of adults in the U.S., and owed $11.6 billion in all.

Illkya Acosta and her father share $100,000 of that debt – he applied for a $60,000 Parent PLUS Loan – which she wrote out on a cardboard sign. Acosta is a 26 year old, first generation American, who went to school to study graphic design.

“I wanted to go to college so I could get a career and make money, take care of myself, help out my family… that’s not where I’m getting yet,” said Acosta who is working in hospitality and doing office work.” I’m like should I have even gone to college?”

Acosta and millions of Americans with federal loans did receive some relief through the CARES Act – it paused loan payments and interest – but the forbearance period is slated to end Jan. 31.

“The two jobs that I have… I’m barely making rent here in the city,” said Acosta, who doesn’t know what job prospects will be as the pandemic continues to affect the way people work. “I’m just scraping by.”

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