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The Biden administration’s recently announced plan to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loans for qualifying borrowers has created an uproar and an array of reactions: It’s too much; it’s too little; it won’t do enough to help the neediest borrowers.

Yet there’s a less-heard-from community that stands to benefit from student loan relief, one that is rarely mentioned in discussions about the debt crisis: the 53 million Americans who provide care for loved ones managing a chronic disease, serious illness, disability or mental health condition, according to research from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.

One in 10 of these caregivers are also enrolled in college.

For this overlooked population of more than 5 million Americans, the administration’s plan could mean that life is about to get a little easier as they navigate student debt and caregiving responsibilities.

Student debt is one of many financial challenges that this community faces. Nearly half (45 percent) of family caregivers report they have experienced at least one negative financial impact, such as difficulty affording food, as a result of their caregiving; one in four report taking on debt.

Caregiving is an essential role that more and more Americans are fulfilling. There were approximately 10 million more family caregivers in 2020 than there were in 2015.

This is hard and often thankless work, with far-reaching impacts for young people balancing both school and caregiving.

People like Lisette Carbajal, who was a student at the University of Virginia when she learned that her father had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, a progressive neurological condition. Carbajal juggled school and tasks to help her family navigate her father’s complex medical and care journey.

While many college kids worry about what major to pick or clubs to join, the average student caregiver provides approximately 20 hours of care per week, helping family members bathe, get dressed and negotiate the health care system.

So, while Biden’s loan forgiveness plan won’t completely transform the lives of our country’s 5 million student caregivers, it will provide real breathing room for the millions of young people who are working hard to achieve their educational dreams while propping up our broken system of unpaid care.

Many students provide complex care — such as administering multiple medications, changing dressings and handling medical equipment — all with little to no training.

Caregivers like Lisette are forced to make tough decisions about their education and their families because the United States lacks adequate infrastructure to support people in their situation (other nations have policies such as home- and community-based supports, paid family and medical leave and caregiver tax credits).

As a result, caregiving in the U.S. can be bleak, leaving the people who provide this essential labor economically drained — and making it even more challenging for those who are simultaneously pursuing an education.

Nearly half of student caregivers report being in high-intensity care situations, which increases their risk for mental health problems and other health challenges. And they are more likely to report not being able to pay bills or afford basic expenses like food for themselves.

Black and Latino student caregivers make up the largest share of this population. The financial strain of caregiving often intersects with other deeply entrenched economic inequities — including the student debt crisis.

Black college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than white college graduates. Latino students maintained over 83 percent of their loan debt 12 years after graduation, compared to white borrowers’ 65 percent.

Individuals in families with annual incomes of less than $50,000 are even more likely to report that caregiving causes financial strain.

More than one in three family caregivers earning below that income level report going into debt to provide care, and 42 percent report that they have stopped saving money.

In other words, the poorer you are, the more economically disruptive caregiving becomes. And for student caregivers and young caregivers of color, this creates a dangerous cycle: How can you repay loans, earn a living wage and provide care without a lifeline?

Related: The unasked question about the student loan bailout: What’s colleges’ responsibility?

So, while Biden’s loan forgiveness plan won’t completely transform the lives of our country’s 5 million student caregivers, it will provide real breathing room for the millions of young people who are working hard to achieve their educational dreams while propping up our broken system of unpaid care.

For family caregivers, loan forgiveness is a small step toward addressing the economic hardships associated with care. In the long run, it will take much bolder investments in care infrastructure, such as paid family and medical leave, to give caregivers the futures they deserve.

Jason Resendez is the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving. Fawn Cothran is the Hunt research director at the National Alliance for Caregiving.

This story about student loan forgiveness was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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Jason Resendez is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, an advocacy organization focused on building health, wealth and equity for America's 53 million family caregivers. You can follow...

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