Thousands of Mainers stand to benefit from President Biden’s plan to cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those with incomes below $125,000 and households that earn less than $250,000.

Graduates of the University of Southern Maine clap during commencement at the Cross Insurance Arena in May 2019. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Augusta-based Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) said in a release Wednesday that roughly 177,000 Mainers, or about 95 percent of the people in the state who have federal student loan debt, will be helped by the president’s plan. An additional $10,000 in student debt cancellation will be made available for those people who went to college on Pell grants. Federal Pell grants are available to students who can demonstrate exceptional financial need.

More than 40 million Americans could see their student loan debt reduced – and in many cases eliminated – under the long-awaited forgiveness plan the president announced Wednesday, a historic but politically divisive move in the run-up to the midterm elections, the Associated Press reported.

Biden’s move to fulfill a campaign promise is seen as an unprecedented attempt to stem the tide of America’s rapidly rising student debt, though critics say it doesn’t address the broader issue – the high cost of college.


The Maine Center for Economic Policy, which was established in 1994 as a non-partisan research and policy organization focused on the economic well being of low- and moderate-income Mainers, said that the student debt cancellation plan will erase half the debt of up to 30,000 older Mainers, easing financial pressures as they age into retirement. In Maine, student loan borrowers over the age of 50 owe the most debt on average.


Tina Cole, a retired licensed clinical social worker, counts herself among them. The 66-year-old Portland native, who retired in November 2021, said she currently owes more than two times the $40,000 she borrowed to get her undergraduate and master’s degrees.

Cole, who lives in Lewiston, declined to say exactly how much school debt she owes, but says that over the years she had to request several forbearances on her student loan as she dealt with personal hardships and challenges. During those pauses in payments, the interest on her student loan continued to accumulate.

A single mother, Cole worked at a number of public sector jobs during her career, including for the city of Portland’s health clinic and the city’s Oxford Street homeless shelter. She ended her career working at MaineHealth’s Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick.

While she is grateful for the president’s plan – Cole said she does qualify for debt cancellation – she says the $10,000 is more likely to benefit recent college graduates than someone in her position. The $10,000 will only make a dent in her debt. Cole graduated from the University of Southern Maine in the late 1990s and later earned her master’s degree from the University of New England.

“The $10,000 will be helpful to a lot of people who haven’t been out of school for very long,” Cole said in a telephone interview.

The economic policy center praised the president’s initiative.


“Student debt prevents Mainers from buying homes and cars, getting jobs, and starting families,” said Jody Harris, MECEP’s vice president of operations and finance. “Federal action to forgive student loans particularly benefits Mainers, who hold more student debt than the average American, and would have outsized positive impacts for working Mainers, Black families, women and people with low income.”


Kennedy Hubbard and her fiance have been searching for a house without much success. Her auto loan and her substantial student debt have been hanging over her as she tries to navigate her future life course.

But on Wednesday, Hubbard, who lives in Gray, got an early wedding gift from the government. She says she will qualify for the $20,000 student debt cancellation.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh. This is so amazing,'” the 26-year-old University of Maine Orono graduate said. “It’s going to wipe out almost all my debt. It’s a huge relief for me.”

Hubbard, a first-generation college student who has about $21,000 in student debt, is getting married Sept. 4.


“This money is going to give me more financial flexibility and a little more freedom while we continue to search for a house,” said Hubbard, who graduated from UMaine in 2018 with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and early childhood education. She earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Maine in Farmington in 2021.

“(Student loan debt) has kind of always loomed over my life,” she said. “Now, I can breathe a sign of relief.”

The economic policy center said that while federal student debt cancellation has significant impacts for Mainers, more action is needed to fully solve the problem. In order to grow the state’s economy and increase equitable access to good jobs, Maine should continue to seek ways to lower the cost of higher education.

The center supports making permanent Maine’s temporary free community college program. Gov. Janet Mills earlier this year proposed a $20 million plan to pay for up to two years of community college for qualified students who were part of high school graduating classes from 2020 through 2023.


Since Maine’s offer of free community college went into effect, the state’s seven community colleges have seen an 11 percent increase in summer applications, compared to the same time period last year.

Arthur Phillips is an economic policy analyst with the center. In a blog he wrote earlier this year, Phillips said that nearly 63 percent of Maine graduates incurred student debt, which was the eighth highest in the United States.

The average Maine college graduate owes $33,000 in loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It is the lowest debt load in New England, but carried by those who can least afford to pay it – Maine college grads earn $38,000 a year, $5,000 less than the New England average.

Phillips wrote that borrowers over the age of 60 have been particularly hard hit and represent the fastest growing segment of the student loan market. While many seniors carry debt from their own education, many carry student debt that helped finance their children or grandchildren’s education. For seniors living on a fixed income, student debt has had major consequences for their financial well being.

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