When the COVID pandemic first struck, Johanna Daile, a third-year student studying history and psychology at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Illinois, knew they would have trouble concentrating in virtual classes. Having already accumulated $58,000 of debt over three years of college, they decided to temporarily quit school during the pandemic to focus on paying back their loans.
But the pandemic continued — and got worse. Daile, then an assistant manager at Dairy Queen, relocated to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to be near family in September 2020. They transferred to another Dairy Queen location, working the same position for less pay. The 24-year-old switched jobs a few more times before finding their current position at Kay Jewelers.
Because they did not graduate, Daile wasn’t able to get their loans deferred, and going back to school isn’t possible without taking out even more loans. Their payments are up to $750 per month — over half of their paycheck. They want to resume their education, but the risk of taking on even more debt severely limits their options, Daile told BuzzFeed News. Now their goal is to return to school by 2025, if they are able.
Student loan debt is an overwhelming burden shared by over 40 million Americans. It can follow people throughout their lives and lock them out of significant milestones like buying a home or, in Daile’s case, obtaining a degree.
Under the CARES Act, student loan repayments were paused, and the federal student loan interest rates were set at 0% as of March 2020. In August this year, a month before the pause was set to expire, President Joe Biden pushed the deadline to resume payments to Jan. 31, 2022.
As COVID cases surged this past month, the president on Wednesday announced that he would extend the pause to May 1, 2022. But Biden — who promised on the campaign trail to forgive $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower — has not indicated that he will cancel student debt outright, as progressive lawmakers have demanded, a move that would provide immense financial relief to millions of Americans.