Kamala Harris has a plan — but not everyone loves it.
Last week, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate unveiled her vision for “reducing the opportunity gap,” which includes lifting up black entrepreneurs. She aims to do this through a number of initiatives, including improving access to federal contracts and endorsing a $12 billion startup capital grant for marginalized entrepreneurs.
She also plans to enact “a student loan debt forgiveness program for Pell grant recipients who start a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities.” While sharing her full plan on social media, Harris spotlighted that proposal — only to be met with a wave of criticism for its notable specificity.
Twitter users quick registered their confusion with the intended impact of proposal, frustration with her seeming lack of understanding of Pell grants (which do not need to be repaid), and more. Others made jokes about the proposal — one user even went so far as to create an “Oddly Specific Kamala Harris Policy Generator.”
If I have the 400K to operate a business then I would have the money to pay off my loans…. https://t.co/ZaiAea54at
— ❄Mikki Kendall❄ (@Karnythia) July 28, 2019
Less than a day later, Harris posted again to acknowledge these critiques. “I want to thank everyone for your feedback and clarify some confusion. We have an opportunity gap in our country, and one thing we need to do is support Black entrepreneurs,” she wrote, before urging voters to read her plan in full.
This hyper-focused proposal is not unheard of. When we wrote about the student debt crisis in 2017 — a problem which disproportionately affects women entrepreneurs of all races, but minority women in particular — some experts made similar suggestions. Dolores Rowen of the National Women’s Business Council talked of a plan to create a debt-forgiveness program tied to entrepreneurial milestones like annual revenue or job-creation targets, among other criteria.
People may disagree on solutions, but one thing is clear: Student loan debt creates a barrier for marginalized entrepreneurs.
Roughly 44 million borrowers in the United States carry about $1.3 trillion in outstanding student debt. Women account for two-thirds of the sum, or about $800 billion, according to the American Association of University Women. Meanwhile, just under 87 percent of black students take on loans to go to college, compared to about 60 percent of white students.
We’ll be watching to see if more candidates use this moment to discuss how student debt can harm future generations’ entrepreneurial dreams — and offer ways to avoid going further down that path.