By James Wright, Special to the AFRO[email protected]

In May, many undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in the District of Columbia received their degrees. If they haven’t already, many are also waiting for  something else – a bill for their student loans.

Many District graduates and working professionals are grappling with student loan debt and it has become a barrier for the purchase of a home and automobile. D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) is aware of this crisis and authored legislation “The Student Loan Debt Forgiveness Act of 2017, that is designed to deal with exploding student debt.

David Grosso is an at-large independent on the D.C. Council. (Courtesy Photo)

Grosso is the chairman of the Committee on Education and held a hearing on this bill June 25. “Student loan debt is unavoidable for many people,” the Council member said. “When I was in school, I financed my education through work-study programs and other education partners.”

PRNewswire published a story in its June 26 edition that 10 percent of student loan borrowers in the District owe more than $100,000, the highest in the nation. The article said that 25 percent of the District’s population has an advanced degree (master’s and professional).

Grosso’s legislation would empower an office of the ombudsman to help borrowers and set guidelines for District residents to relieve their student loan debt. The bill has the support of D.C. Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7).

Dr. Eddy Ameen, a District career psychologist, testified at the hearing that financial stress is a factor for students in the higher education realm. “While survey data can tell you how important it is, I receive frequent phone calls and visits from members that are riddled with debt,” he said. “That’s all they can do to succumb to it.”

Ameen said many of his patients wish they had alternatives to student loans for financing education and wish there was an active program that suited them to forgive their debt. He said the majority or nearly half of the people in his field have delayed saving for the future, retirement planning, buying a house, and having children because of student loan debt.

Ameen said he likes Grosso’s bill and encouraged him to, among other things, encourage student loan debt from federal institutions and not private concerns and requested that the bill include District public workers who graduated before 2016. He also said that while $75,000 is a great deal of money in other parts of the country, in the District it is almost an average salary and adjustments must be made to take that into account.

In addition, Ameen wants the public service loan forgiveness program to be more active in the District.

Shana Young, chief of staff for the District’s Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), told Grosso that establishing an ombudsman could be problematic because many District residents would have to be helped by this program and that could be overwhelming. “We appreciate the bill’s sponsors attempting to address student loan debt, which is a significant concern for many District residents,” Young said.

Grosso said the bill “is a work in progress” and offered his opinions. “Perhaps borrowers should be required to take financial literacy classes before they take on these loans,” he said.