Sunday Reads — Aug. 28, 2022

It’s not news that prices are up, but the spending got a little easier this week for people paying off college loans decades after graduation. But all student debt isn’t loan-related, as we’ve learned, and that just makes it harder to consider college for some. Read on.

Shrinking student loans

It would be an understatement to say there are several camps of approval and disapproval of President Joe Biden’s decision to grant federal student loan relief to students carrying large amounts of college debt. The top line relieves students of $10,000 if they make less than $125,000 a year. If they were eligible for and received Pell grants, they can reduce debt by $20,000. And, remaining payments can’t be more than 5% of discretionary income for undergraduate borrowers.

Georgia residents carry $68.6 billion in student loan debt. The average debt is $41,639 and 15.4% of state residents have student loan debt. The state ranks 3rd in the nation for highest debt per borrower — behind Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

For those who worry about the costs around the move, here’s a link to budgetary modeling on the forgiveness from the Wharton School of Business. It concludes that in early studies, the total plan cost may exceed $1 trillion. That’s less than the $1.620 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt, according to the Education Data Initiative.

However, if you are wondering about expenses and how debt piles up so quickly in the first place, here are a few examples to ponder. These numbers would apply to one academic year for an undergraduate student who lives on campus. Use the tool at College Navigator to look at expenses for institutions across the country.

Schools, families and lunch

As it turns out, student debt isn’t limited to college loans. For some children, it’s simply about lunch. School lunch debt has been a persistent problem for years in 3 in 4 school districts across the country. A story from education journalists at the nonprofit Chalkbeat gives us a good look at the school lunch payment discussions, as well as the unintended $11 million in debt families and schools carry in order to provide good nutrition for their children. The pandemic’s temporary federal relief packages made school lunches and breakfasts free for two years but ‘normalcy’ brings back the need for lunch money. Parents must fill out a form in each district to qualify for free or reduced price lunches but some don’t do it or won’t to avoid stigmas for their children. Student lunches cost around $3 a day at full price. Reduced-price lunches are 40 cents. More than half of students in Georgia and in Coastal Georgia public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches depending on family income or household size. Breakfast remains free of charge in most districts.

Help find answers: Food insecurity continues to be a pernicious problem for coastal communities. You can be a part of the solution by listening and providing input for the Savannah-Chatham Food Policy Council. Join the discussion in person from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 30, at the W.W. Law Community Center, 900 E. Bolton St. in Savannah. It’s funded by the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant, administered by Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia.

Each WIC paper voucher corresponds to certain items, resulting in multiple transactions. E-cards will expedite the system. Credit: Sofi Gratas/GPB News


A few notes from the week.

  • Fewer hassles for a full plate: Coastal Georgia is the first health district to implement the new electronic e-card voucher system for families who use WIC, the federally funded nutrition program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture mandated a switch from cumbersome paper vouchers to electronic payment cards in 2016, and the state finally did it. Read how it’s starting to help 200,000 Georgia families save and shop smarter in this story from Georgia Public Broadcasting.
  • Medicaid partial expansion: Experts are weighing in on what’s needed for equitable health care access in Georgia even though Gov. Brian Kemp’s Medicaid waiver plan is back on the table. The plan would help a fraction of those who aren’t currently covered. Some agree with the plan and many say it’s not nearly enough. You decide.
  • To watch this week: We can expect a judge to rule soon on whether the governor will have to testify under oath to the Fulton County special grand jury empaneled to hear evidence regarding efforts to change the results of the November 2020 General Election. He’s not a target but had conversations with the former president after the election. Kemp had planned to testify but is now resisting the subpoena after he took offense to prosecution questions for his staff. This story from Georgia Recorder brings us up to date.

Your second cup: Why we get ‘hangry’

You’ve likely heard “we are what we eat” from someone questioning your food choices. We’re all about making choices based on credible info so here’s a variation on our normal menu: A neuroscientist’s research shows that what we think and feel is determined by our daily diet and why smart choices can control our moods and our reactions to events. After reading this, you may start wondering if we should hold each other accountable for what we eat.


Without free school meals for all, many fear lunch debt will return ‘with a vengeance’

The issue of school lunch debt rose to prominence in the years leading up to the pandemic. Three-quarters of school districts reported students had unpaid school meal debt by the end of 2017-18 school year, according to a survey of 800 districts conducted by the School Nutrition Association, a national nonprofit representing school food workers. That stacked up to nearly […]

Georgia final state to implement e-card food vouchers for 200,000 families

USDA mandated WIC switch in 2016 but state waited to upgrade systems for Department of Public Health. The new cards will affect more than 200,000 families.

Georgia’s budget is a ‘snapshot of our morals and values,’ advocates of Medicaid expansion say

A District Court judge ruled last week that Georgia can move forward with its waiver plan rather than fully expand Medicaid. But some say this will leave many of the state’s poorest people without coverage.

Judge set to rule on Kemp motion to avoid Fulton grand jury subpoena

Kemp was originally expected to provide the special grand jury with his videotaped testimony back in June, but the cooperation dissolved into bickering between the Republican governor and the Democrat-led district attorney’s office.

Diet can influence mood, behavior and more – a neuroscientist explains

While we can’t yet prevent or treat brain conditions with diet, researchers are learning a great deal about the role that nutrition plays in the everyday brain processes that make us who we are.

Settlement leaves fate of mine at Okefenokee’s edge with Georgia EPD

This development puts the project back on track to continue going through the state Environmental Protection Division’s final stages following an administrative setback applauded by Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, Muscogee Creek Nation and environmentalists for protecting the Okefenokee, its water table and its threatened wildlife.

Arbery’s three killers officially start life sentences in state prison

Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan entered the custody of the Georgia Department of Corrections, after being convicted of chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020. They will be screened to decide what prison they will enter.

Abrams’ environmental focus: resilience, green jobs, lower energy costs

Stacey Abrams’ environmental platform focuses on how resiliency, other priorities could underpin state’s growth, while Kemp looks to sustainability ratings to attract business.

Georgia COVID-19 daily statistics

Today’s cases, change, deaths, hospitalizations, testing, vaccination sites and tracker

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