- Melissa Andretta, 53, was a registered Democrat for four decades and voted for Joe Biden.
- She felt “betrayed” by Democrats because of inaction on student debt and is now an independent.
- With $163,000 in student debt, she says she’s worried about loan payments resuming next year.
President Joe Biden won Melissa Andretta’s vote in 2020 when he promised to fix the student-loan industry and cancel student debt.
But Andretta’s student-debt load, at $163,000, hasn’t gone down since Biden took office, and she told Insider she felt “betrayed.”
“I’ve been registered as a Democrat since I was of voting age,” said Andretta, now 53. “But throughout this last year, I was an independent instead because I’m just so frustrated and disheartened. One of the main reasons why I was so in favor of Biden was because I really felt that he was going to help us with the student-loan problem.”
All of Andretta’s debt comes from the Ph.D. she sought from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1999. She was unable to finish the program because of back surgery that prevented her from traveling to and from Manhattan. Though she wanted to finish her degree once she recovered, “the thought of taking out more loans was just too prohibitive,” she said.
Since leaving her Ph.D. program, Andretta has worked as a special-education teacher, and she now runs her own agency where she works with children and adolescents with autism. She said her career options are limited because when she’s no longer able to physically work with children because of her age, she won’t have an advanced degree to fall back on. Even worse, the ballooning interest has left her repaying three times what her partial degree cost.
“It’s so scary and so frustrating that at 53, I’m still looking at $160,000 worth of debt when I only borrowed a third of that,” Andretta said. “So it’s just so frustrating. And so frightening. It’s a very vulnerable position.”
‘I have more anxiety than I’ve had in years’
Andretta put her loans into forbearance for about five years after her surgery because she was not making sufficient income to afford the $850 monthly bills. During that time, interest caused her student debt to surge from the $40,000 original balance.
Although she now makes a six-figure salary, the majority of her income went to her monthly student-loan bills before student-loan payments were paused during the pandemic, and she’s only been able to put “the tiniest amount” into her savings account and 401(k) since.
“I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to retire,” Andretta said. “I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to continue living in New York. I’ve been looking at other options in other states because it’s so expensive to live here with these additional bills that are going to be coming my way.”
As of now, the Education Department is preparing to transition 43 million federal student-loan borrowers back into repayment on February 1, after what would be an almost two-year pause. Some advocates and lawmakers are sounding the alarm that the pandemic is ongoing and borrowers aren’t yet financially equipped to take on additional bills.
“This debt is just overwhelming for people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently said. “If we don’t extend the pause, interest rates just pile up. Students owe a fortune. And with Omicron here, we’re not getting out of this as quickly as we’d like.”
Andretta agreed. “I’m basically living paycheck to paycheck,” she said. She added, at the thought of having another $400 bill coming in February, “I have more anxiety than I’ve had in years.”
‘Democrats were supposed to be the party of the people’
During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to fix flawed student-loan-forgiveness programs and approve $10,000 in student-debt cancellation immediately. He has followed through on some of those promises: His Education Department recently announced reforms to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives debt for public servants, such as teachers, after ten years of qualifying payments but ran up a 98% denial rate.
He has also canceled about $11.5 billion in student debt for targeted groups of borrowers, such as those defrauded by for-profit schools, which are actions provided to him under the law.
But when it comes to broad student-debt cancellation, Biden has remained quiet on the topic, and many borrowers are disappointed. For example, an independent voter recently appeared on CNN to weigh in on Biden’s actions so far, and she gave the president a B-minus rating for not yet delivering on his student-debt promises.
“I would definitely say he has delivered on many promises, but some of them he has not,” Amikka Burl, an independent voter, said on CNN. “He promised when he was actually running, on his campaign trail, that he would wipe out $10,000 worth of student-loan debt for every individual that has student loans. That has yet to come to fruition, so I am waiting for that to happen.”
The clock is ticking for Democrats to act on the $1.7 trillion student-debt crisis, especially with midterm elections next year. Andretta said it would “certainly play a role” in whom she votes for in upcoming elections.
“I always felt like the Democrats were supposed to be the party of the people,” she said. “And I could never see myself moving anywhere else but the party of the people. But I’m one of those people, and I don’t feel like they represent me at this point in time. So I really have to reconsider what my options are.”
Do you have a story to share about student debt? Reach out to Ayelet Sheffey at firstname.lastname@example.org.