Meet a single grandmother raising 3 grandchildren with $75,000 in student debt: ‘I don’t want my grandkids to be in poverty’

student loan debt
  • 8 million borrowers over the age of 50 hold 22% of the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis.
  • Insider spoke to a 61-year-old single grandmother raising 3 grandchildren with $75,000 in student debt.
  • Her main hope is that her student debt doesn’t push her grandchildren into poverty.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Gwen Carney’s main hope is that her three grandchildren don’t grow up in poverty. But her $75,000 student-debt load is standing in the way.

Carney, a 61-year-old single grandmother in Oklahoma, has a Bachelor’s degree in counseling, a minor in psychology, and a Master’s degree in Indigenous people’s law. With her grandchildren’s parents out of the picture, she is supporting a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 17-year old in addition to herself. She told Insider it takes “every penny she earns” to get by.

“I probably would be able to qualify for food stamps, but I don’t want to do that,” Carney said. “I don’t want my grandkids to know that grandma had to go get food stamps, and that’s how they ate.”

Gwen Carney
Gwen Carney.

Insider reported in May on the over 8 million borrowers over the age of 50 who hold 22% of the $1.7 trillion student-debt load in the country, with three of those borrowers saying they don’t think they will ever be able to pay off their student debt before they die. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Insider that “student debt isn’t just crushing young people,” and that student debt is one of the biggest contributors” to the rise in debt for seniors overall.

The situation for Carney is different from most seniors. She desperately wants to give her grandchildren the lives they deserve, but with having to pay all of their expenses, including medical and education, on top of her student debt, working 40 hours a week at a job in counseling just isn’t enough.

“They’re good athletes, they’re good students, they’re good kids, and they give me no trouble whatsoever,” Carney said, referring to her grandchildren. “I don’t want my grandkids to be in poverty.”

‘Restarting payments makes me very anxious’

The student-loan payment pause during the pandemic has given Carney significant relief. She sewed facemasks and sent them across the country, and to Canada, to make some extra cash while she wasn’t paying off her student debt. But with payments set to resume in February, Carney is worried she won’t be ready.

“Restarting payments makes me very anxious because I somehow have to find that extra $200,” Carney said. “I just don’t have it.”

Since her grandchildren were doing school remotely during the pandemic, Carney said her water, gas, electric, and food bills tripled, and even though she was still getting her paychecks, the money that could have gone toward her student-loan payments went elsewhere.

Other borrowers took money saved from the payment pause and used it toward other expenses, as well. One borrower previously told Insider that the almost $400 she saved each month from not making student-loan payments during the pandemic allowed her to pay off the expenses of giving birth, in full.

And even for borrowers who did make payments on their student debt during the freeze, some of them did not even get $1 less in debt than their original balances, showing the inescapable nature of the debt.

“I’m really not looking forward to February at all,” Carney said. “It scares me.”

‘Don’t forget about us grandparents’

Elizabeth Warren and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote a CNBC op-ed in February highlighting the student debt plight for older Americans.

“Older Americans with student debt include people who may not have had a chance at a degree when they were younger because they had a family to support, but took a shot at the American dream and went to college later in life,” the lawmakers said. “Now their student debt eats away at the retirement security they worked so hard for.”

Carney pursued her Master’s degree because she had a family to support, and she wants to make sure other grandparents like her are not getting lost in the student-debt forgiveness conversation.

“Don’t forget about us grandparents that have done a great job raising our grandchildren with student debt,” she said.

But even with the constraints of student debt, Carney does not regret seeking an education. She just doesn’t want the debt to hold her grandkids back.

“I want them to be able to grow up and say, ‘We did not live in poverty. We did not use food stamps. We did not rely on the government to support us – Grandma did,” Carney said. “‘She did it the best she knew how.'”

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Biden’s about to raise food stamps to $157 a month from $121 – the biggest boost ever

joe biden
President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug prices and his “Build Back Better” agenda from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Washington.

  • Biden is set to announce the largest-ever boost to food stamps on Monday, the NYT reports.
  • The average monthly benefit will rise to $157 per person from $121. That’s about 40 cents per meal.
  • A 15% boost to food stamps was set to lapse on September 30, but Biden’s move offsets that.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce the largest-ever boost to food stamps on Monday, permanently increasing aid for the roughly 42 million Americans on the program.

The average monthly benefit will climb to $157 per person from $121, The New York Times reported, citing an administration official. That translates to an increase of roughly 40 cents per meal. For a family of four, the maximum benefit will rise to $835 per month, up about 21% from the pre-pandemic limit.

The increase will take effect on October 1.

The move is one of the ways Biden can increase aid for Americans without Congressional approval. The Agriculture Department will increase payments through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by updating its list of foods needed for a healthy diet.

Biden’s increase ends a process that began in his first days in office. In a late January executive order, the president called on the USDA to review the Thrifty Food Plan, which includes the list of foods that determines SNAP payments. The administration argued the plan didn’t accurately reflect households’ nutritional and financial needs.

The food plan was originally set to be updated by 2022, but the Biden order sped up that process and is now set to bring higher benefits before the end of the year.

The fiscal cliff looms large

The announcement comes just weeks before enhanced SNAP benefits were set to lapse at the end of September. Congress approved a 15% supplement to the program at the end of last year, and Biden’s move will offset that boost’s expiration and leave SNAP beneficiaries with permanently higher payments.

The September deadline was part of a larger set of expirations known as the “fiscal cliff.” A slew of pandemic-era support programs was set to end in September, with Republicans arguing the economic recovery made such aid obsolete.

Some, like the freeze to student loan payments, were recently extended to avoid a sudden pullback in government support. Others, like the federal eviction moratorium, weren’t re-upped and have raised concerns around reversing aid while virus cases rebound. The Biden administration renewed some parts of the eviction ban in a last-ditch effort earlier in August, but legal battles risk canceling the extension.

The boost to food stamps hasn’t come without its share of backlash. Ranking members on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees asked the Government Accountability Office last week to review the White House’s process for updating the Thrifty Food Plan.

The administration will publish the results of its review soon and is prepared to brief lawmakers on the matter, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Politico in a statement.

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Biden has scrapped Trump’s plan to kick 3 million people off food stamps

biden trump generals
President Biden and former president Trump.

  • Biden has scrapped a Trump plan to remove the right to food stamps and free school meals from millions of Americans.
  • Three million Americans would have been hit by the food stamps plan with around one million children losing access to free school meals.
  • It comes after the Biden administration scrapped another Trump plan which would have further restricted access to the benefits.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Biden has scrapped plans by former President Donald Trump to scrap food stamps for three million Americans and to remove automatic eligibility for free school meals from a million schoolchildren.

The proposal, which was first raised by the Trump administration in 2019, would have restricted eligibility for the schemes to only the poorest Americans, CNN reported.

Republicans had argued that there was a loophole in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program program which allowed higher-earning Americans to apply for food stamps.

However, the proposal to restrict access to the scheme would have affected significant numbers of children who would have lost out both from the removal of food stamps as well as free school meals, campaigners argued.

It comes after the Biden administration scrapped another Trump plan which would have removed access to food stamps for around 700,000 Americans, by limiting the ability of states to waive requirements for recipients to work.

The proposal was blocked by a US district court judge in 2020, which the Trump administration had appealed, only for the US government’s opposition to be overturned by the Biden administration.

President Biden has pushed to expand the generosity of the food stamps scheme since taking office as part of a drive to tackle hunger in the United States.

His administration reportedly authorized the largest children’s summer feeding program in history this year, in a plan which gave over $1 billion a month in increased food stamp payments and giving children $1 a day to purchase snacks.

“We haven’t seen an expansion of food assistance of this magnitude since the founding of the modern food stamp program in 1977,” economist James P. Ziliak told the New York Times in April.

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Biden just signed an executive order to expand food stamps and send stimulus checks to people who haven’t already received one

joe biden executive orders
President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

  • President Joe Biden’s third wave of executive actions will provide aid to Americans struggling financially during the pandemic.
  • Addressing the hunger crisis, increasing SNAP benefits, and ensuring quick delivery of stimulus payments are core components of Biden’s COVID-19 economic relief plan.
  • Biden also plans on providing relief to federal workers by encouraging government agencies to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Joe Biden signed an executive action on Friday to address the financial struggles facing millions of Americans as the pandemic continues.

“We need more action and we need to move fast,” Biden said during a signing ceremony on Friday.

While Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package is centered around providing aid, executives orders will allow for immediate action without having to wait for congressional approval, Insider previously reported. The move underscores the Biden administration’s intent to move rapidly to address the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

The Biden administration is also kickstarting relief talks with Congress this weekend, attempting to garner bipartisan support for a large rescue package that’s already running into strong Republican opposition.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what the executive action includes and how it will provide economic relief for businesses, families, and individuals:

Address the growing hunger crisis facing children and adults in America

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, one in seven households in the country are struggling to obtain the food they need. Biden is calling on Congress to extend the 15% Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit increase and invest $3 billion to help women, infants, and children get the food they require.

Increase access to nutritious foods for children missing meals during school closures

The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer connects low-income families with children with the equivalent amount of money spent on school meals. Biden is asking the Dept. of Agriculture to increase the benefits by about 15% to accurately reflect the cost of missed meals during the pandemic.

Allow larger emergency SNAP allotments for lowest-income households

Congress has previously authorized emergency SNAP benefits, but those benefits have not been made available to the lowest-income households in the country. The USDA will consider extending those benefits to the households that need them the most, increasing benefit access to an additional 12 million people.

Update the true cost of a healthy diet

The USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which determines SNAP benefits, is not up to date with the economic realities households face when attempting to buy healthy food, so the benefits fall short of what a healthy diet truly costs. Biden will request that the USDA review the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the modern cost of a healthy diet.

Ensure efficient delivery of direct stimulus payments

With many Americans experiencing challenges receiving the first round of direct payments — eight million eligible households never received the checks — Biden plans to provide equitable delivery of his proposed $1,400 stimulus checks by asking the Treasury Department to improve delivery of the Economic Impact Payments. This can be done through a series of measures, including establishing online tools for claiming payments, working to make sure everyone can access the payments, and analyzing unserved households for additional outreach efforts.

Guarantee safety and economic coverage for working families

43% of American households report having at least one member of a family with a pre-existing condition, according to a Gallup poll, which makes going into work a significant health risk. As a result, Biden will ask the Dept. of Labor to clarify that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that could jeopardize their health, and if they choose to do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance.

Help families, workers, and small businesses access relief quickly through coordinated benefit delivery teams

While many government programs have provided support for families struggling financially, many individuals and small businesses have encountered difficulty in navigating relief services, leaving many benefits unclaimed. As a result, Biden plans on establishing benefit delivery teams and a coordination structure across federal and state programs to provide greater ease in accessing urgent relief.

Protecting and Empowering Federal Workers and Contractors Executive Order

Biden will direct his administration on Friday to begin the work that will allow him to issue an executive order in his first 100 days to require federal contractors to pay workers a $15 minimum wage, along with providing emergency paid leave to workers. 

To further protect federal employees, Biden will sign an executive order that:

  • Restores collective bargaining powers and worker protections
  • Eliminates Schedule F, which threatens critical protections of career employees and allows for civil service positions for political appointees
  • Promotes a $15 minimum wage for all federal workers¬†
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