US Senator Elizabeth Warren, Boston Teachers Union Jessica Tang and US Representative Ayanna Pressley discuss student debt during a forum at the Teachers Union headquarters in Dorchester. PHOTO: ANNA LAMM
Last week, Massachusetts lawmakers came together with education advocates and labor leaders to urge President Joe Biden to cancel student loan debt as the clock ticks on the federal moratorium instituted during the coronavirus pandemic.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley led an hour-long panel discussion Wednesday at the Boston Teacher’s Union headquarters, where they were flanked by panelists including BTU President Jessica Tang, Massachusetts Teachers Association President Max Page, and Massachusetts AFL-CIO Chrissy Lynch and Ian Rhodewalt, spokesman for the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation.
“Student debt is a problem that affects the entire Boston Public Schools community, from our teachers and administrators struggling to pay off their loans to our students working on college applications and afraid of what they’re going for.” have to sacrifice their future if it’s even worth applying and going to college,” Tang said in her opening address to the Dorchester room.
The moratorium is scheduled to end in late August, with no word from Biden on whether he intends to issue any form of loan forgiveness, despite a campaign pledge to forgo $10,000 in federal loans to qualifying borrowers. The original nationwide pause was introduced in March 2020 and has alalready extended several times – another opportunity for action in the White House.
According to a Forbes report earlier this year, more than half of Americans have student loan debt from public four-year institutions, with the majority of those loans coming from the federal government. According to Department of Education statistics, the average debt per borrower is $28,950.
Warren has repeatedly called on the president to forgive $50,000 in student loan debt, which she says could dramatically narrow economic disparities based on race and gender.
“We could close the black-and-white wealth gap — the overall wealth gap for people with student loan debt — by 27 points. There is no other single action the President could take alone that would have such a profound impact on racial justice,” she said.
Warren went on to mention that women bear two-thirds of college debt, which if eliminated would have a profound impact on a vast majority of the population.
“Just think of the impact this is having on the people of this country,” she said.
Pressley, who continues to advocate for students struggling with debt, shared a personal story of struggling to pay back and sympathized with those who faced additional difficulties due to crippling debt.
“I thought pretty badly of myself and didn’t understand why, despite the fact that I sometimes had three jobs, I couldn’t get ahead. And eventually I did, but that was decades and decades later. Meanwhile, because I got such a bad grade, it affected my credit score, my ability to secure a home and, in some cases, a job,” she said.
“We were told again and again that we live in a meritocracy and that the path to equality and meritocracy is education – [that] Education is the balance,” Pressley added. “So many blacks pursued it for these reasons and found that it failed to close the racial wealth gap and has only widened the divide.”
The congresswoman also stressed that while she’s urging the president to fulfill his promise on debt relief, it doesn’t address the affordability issue.
“We need to expand Pell Grants, we need a tuition-free college,” she said.
Wednesday’s discussion opened to questions from viewers, who took the opportunity to share their own struggles with debt and ask representatives to step in with solutions.
Karen Perry-Daley, now retired, was a BPD teacher for over 30 years. She asked the two lawmakers at the table what could be done for teachers and former educators who slip through the cracks of highly specific government debt relief programs. Perry-Daley said she tried using forgiveness based on tenure, teaching in a low-income school, and achieving additional education.
“So those three areas of forgiveness seem stuck no matter what direction I turn, and I’ve been paying student loans since 2003 and I have seven years left,” said the 71-year-old.
Warren said her office would look into the issue directly, while Pressley took the opportunity to double down on the call to action for the White House.
“It’s a unilateral action that President Biden can take. He has the authority at the stroke of a pen to ease that burden of that need, and it’s automatic,” she said.
In her final statement, she urged those present to continue urging her office and others to make debt relief a reality.
“Go to your friends. Now is the time to make your voice heard in Washington. Tell me. Get this number. And let’s do it,” she said.