The Evergreen state was among the Top 10 in the country to immediately jump at the chance to apply for President Biden’s student debt relief program when it opened last August.
Now, hundreds of thousands of Washington residents are waiting to hear the fate of their applications, many of which were approved before the plan got tangled in a web of lawsuits and the intense partisan battle over the program. If the plan survives, it would cancel up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year.
The White House had estimated 40 million Americans, nearly 700,000 in Washington, would be eligible for loan forgiveness.
Within the first month, more than half that estimate — 26 million people — either applied or had provided enough information to the Department of Education to be deemed automatically eligible for relief, the White House said.
More than 60%, 16 million, of those applications had received full approval, which the DOE had sent to loan servicers for discharge before the legal roadblocks. In Washington, about 486,000 residents applied and nearly two-thirds, 308,000, received full approval before it was halted.
In February, POLITICO examined ZIP code data associated with the millions of applications to draw a portrait of who is seeking student loan relief. The analysis found borrowers were more likely to hail from blue states than red states and from lower income areas with majority nonwhite populations. Most applications came from places where the per capita income is under $35,000, the report said.
In Washington, while the majority of applicants are from the Puget Sound region, a greater percentage of degree holders in Eastern Washington — particularly Yakima, Benton, Franklin and Spokane counties — filed for Biden’s plan, according to a Seattle Times analysis of POLITICO’s data.
Here’s a brief profile of Washington’s top three areas with the most number of student debt relief applications:
- In southern Washington, ZIP code 98682 in the Portland-Vancouver-Hilsboro metro area on the Oregon border in Clark County had the highest number of applicants in the state. This is a 72% majority-white area where the median age is under 35. The per capita income is under $35,000 and the share of residents below the poverty line is higher than the state average of 9.9%.
- Borrowers in the 98103 ZIP code stretching across Fremont, Phinney Ridge and Green Lake in North Seattle, filed the second highest number of applications. The area is 75% majority-white, the median age is under 35 and the per capita income is $73,070. The share of residents below the poverty line at 6.1% is much lower than the state average.
- The 99208 ZIP code in the Spokane metro area filed the third highest number of applications. The area is 82% white, the median age is 40, and the per capita income is $35,706. About 9.5% residents live below the poverty line.
At the county level, King, Snohomish and Pierce counties had the most applicants, followed by Spokane County in the east and Clark County in the southwest.
Collectively, more than a quarter of student debt relief applications were filed from counties that Donald Trump carried in 2020, the analysis showed.
Lawsuits from a handful of Republican-dominated states are now threatening the future of this program. In February, the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court indicated skepticism for broad debt forgiveness while hearing arguments in two lawsuits against it. In early March, a private bank SoFi N.A. filed a separate lawsuit seeking to overturn the latest extension of the payment pause.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and Magnolia were within the 98103 ZIP code.
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