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April 13, 2021

Rep. Pressley Testifies at Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Student Debt Crisis

Video (YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) testified at a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Policy hearing to examine the student loan debt crisis in our country. In her testimony at the hearing, which was chaired by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Pressley discussed the racial and economic implications of canceling student debt, as well as her own experience with the student loan system.

In February, Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Warren, along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and their colleagues, reintroduced their bicameral resolution outlining a bold plan for President Biden to tackle the student loan debt crisis by using existing authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for Federal student loan borrowers. The lawmakers renewed their calls earlier this month at a press conference to call on Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt through executive action.

The full text of her testimony, as delivered, is available below and full video is available here.

Transcript: Rep. Pressley Testifies at Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Student Debt Crisis
April 13, 2021
Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Policy

Madam Chairwoman, Mr. Ranking Member, and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify here today.

As lawmakers, we are in a position to fundamentally change the lives of the people we represent with a stroke of a pen. And that is why we must center the people and the work we take on together.

When the history books are written, this moment will be defined by the actions we took, or fail to, in the face of unprecedented crises and economic pain. I’ve become all too familiar with the gentle tug of my sleeve, or the panicked expression as I meet the eyes of someone drowning in student debt. The grandmother who is still paying off student loans. The young parent who can’t afford childcare, rent, and her student loan payments. The teacher who fears losing his teaching license because he can’t come up with that monthly student loan payment, not even the minimum.

The student debt crisis is not naturally occurring. This crisis was crafted in these hallowed halls. Policy decisions were made that ensnare generations in the student debt trap. Congress crafted through policy and deregulation an economy where college degrees are increasingly essential for economic survival, but their sticker price is far too out of reach for most families.

Make no mistake, despite the dominant narrative, the student debt crisis has always been both a racial and economic justice issue.

In the city of Boston, the city my family calls home, the average median wealth of a white family is $247,500. While the average median wealth of a Black family is $8. Eight. That is not the result of ingenuity, work ethic or initiative. That is the result of precise and intentional policy decisions made in the halls of this institution and at every level of government. Discriminatory policies have systemically denied families of color the opportunity to own a home or to build wealth.

So for our students who don’t have the benefit of intergenerational wealth — specifically our Black and brown students — signing on the dotted line for those student loans have been the only way to pursue a degree. That was certainly true for me. I know what it is to lie awake at night, panicked over a student loan in default, despite working 12-hour days.

All people who call this nation home deserve the freedom to build a full life, to pursue their unique gifts and contribute to every sector of our economy. We have to take bold action to address the inequities and disparities in our country and use every tool available to provide our communities with the critical relief they so desperately need.

Our nation and this committee are facing an economic crisis.

Canceling student debt by executive action is one of the most effective ways President Biden can provide sweeping relief to millions of families, while helping to reduce the racial wealth gap and to lay the groundwork for an equitable and just long-term recovery.

Congress gave the President the authority to do so through the Higher Education Act. I implore him to use this authority in the pursuit of economic and racial justice. In a matter of months, student debt payments will resume for millions of people across this country. Families who are now struggling with pandemic related financial stress, through no fault of their own, will have an additional bill at their doorstep.

So as we work to ensure an equitable and prompt recovery to the current economic crisis, let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let us be intentional and precise. Student debt cancellation is efficient and effective. It will provide millions of families across this nation with economic relief and opportunity. Student debt cancellation is good economic policy because it invests in the people.

That’s why Senator Warren, myself and Majority Leader Schumer and our colleagues have a resolution that lays out a pathway for President Biden to cancel $50,000 in student loan debt. With a stroke of a pen, he can provide direct relief to tens of millions of families.

I’ll close today where I began, centering the people, in their own words. A constituent of mine recently shared their story. We are a family of five with a child with disabilities, he said. I have over $100,000 in student debt. I put myself through my bachelor’s and master’s with children. I’ve had to file bankruptcy because of my student debt. Please don’t forget about us in this process. Please think of us when talking about debt relief. Lord knows it would change our lives.

The economic anxiety and pressure caused by student loan debt is an experience far too familiar to too many. That father is one of millions calling on us to act. I implore this committee and President Biden to listen to them.

Congresswoman Pressley has been leading the legislative fight for broad based student debt cancellation. Reps. Pressley, Adams, and Omar have repeatedly led their colleagues in calling on House leadership to take urgent action to combat the student debt crisis by including  student debt cancellation in any COVID relief package. In March, Pressley and Omar introduced the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act, legislation to cancel  student loan debt and shield borrowers from any involuntary payments and garnishment during the COVID-19 crisis.


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