April 01, 2021

ICYMI: At Presser, Warren, Healey, and Pressley Continue to Call on President Biden to Cancel Up to $50,000 in Student Debt Through Executive Authority

Say Student Debt Cancellation is a Matter of Racial, Economic, and Generational Justice

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Boston, MA - Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Attorney General Maura Healey held a press conference calling 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. Their press conference followed news that President Biden has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to compile a memo on the president's legal authorities to forgive student loan debt, including canceling up to $50,000. They were joined at the event by student borrower and constituent La'Kayla Carpenter. 

Select Quotes from Transcript: Student Debt Cancellation Press Conference
April 1, 2021
Office of MA Attorney General

Attorney General Maura Healey: ...We've been in this room together - Senator Warren, Congresswoman Pressley, and myself - in the past to talk about student loan debt. And we've done a lot together in Massachusetts in this fight: organizing meetings with students who were cheated and scammed by predatory schools. We rallied around Corinthian borrowers time after time, we announced relief for thousands of ACI students, and we called for change time and time again to the Department of Education... 

Today, we are calling on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt. The President has the power to make this change today and it is so important because we can't allow families to be pushed further and further behind in the opportunity to build their future...

We've spoken with a number of borrowers, thousands of borrowers around the state, and what I can tell you is that the student loan system is fundamentally broken. We know that - I have a Student Loan Assistance Unit that regularly takes calls and we've helped them to try to explore income-driven repayment plans, to get their loans out of default, end the garnishment of their wages, tax refund interceptions, resolve billing disputes, all of this. But as much as we work on this and we work together on this, we really need to address the systemic failures and the breaks in this system. And it's a system that has recklessly saddled borrowers with loans they can't possibly afford to repay, it's been a system that's failed to deliver on the promise of loan forgiveness to thousands of public servants including La'Kayla, who is working for the state of Massachusetts, and it's a system that fundamentally has hollowed out the futures of millions of young people, leaving them with broken dreams and a lifetime of insurmountable debt - this is not good for those individuals and it's not good for our communities or our country.

La'Kayla Carpenter: Hello, my name is La'Kayla Carpenter, and my journey began when I learned, in the process of being literally days away from purchasing my first home, that I was $23,000 in default for student loan debt, which took me by surprise because I had no idea. When I went to research and find out what was going on and I was told that I'd paid all or nothing. I even offered them my closing costs at the time, in order to at least be taken out of default and work out something later, but not to be penalized for being a first-time homebuyer, and I was berated. I was condescended to, I was told that, basically, too bad. I emailed the Department of Education and someone did contact me back, and he was a nice gentleman, and he offered me the rehabilitation program. That was on a Friday. By Monday, I had received a call from someone telling me that I didn't qualify and there was no way I was going to get one. So I said, "I offered you guys my closing costs so I could be at least be taken out of default in order to work out some sort of repayment." I (inaudible) try not to pay everything, but this was just a misunderstanding. And I said, "you guys are going to deny me the chance to buy my first home?" 

And to understand how important that is, I have been on my own since I was eleven years old. You know, I've done everything I most possibly could to stay in the right direction. Went to school, graduated, you know, married, had children, and all the things I thought I was doing right, and to be made to feel like I was less than a person because of it, didn't really feel so good. So this would really help people like me and others out there who are really trying to maintain their composure, especially in a situation we find ourselves in right now with COVID-19. 

You know, it's hard to keep your hopes up, but I was devastated by what happened, you know. Having to be literally almost fifty and just now coming to the realization that I have the opportunity to be a first-time homebuyer. It took me all this time to believe that was even true, and to have the rug pulled up from underneath me is devastating. So I'm just looking forward to President Biden righting a wrong for so many of us out there. Thank you.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley: La'Kayla, thank you for sharing your story. Just one person having experienced that is certainly enough, but La'Kayla is certainly no anomaly, as this is an all-too-familiar story for too many people. But thank you for sharing what was deeply personal. It is not easy to do what you just did and so we thank you. And of course it's always good to stand alongside my partners in good trouble in doing the work of righting wrongs and centering the humanity of people in our efforts around consumer protection and social justice and so many other issues. 

Today we're all here to call on President Biden to do right by the movement that elected him and to use his executive authority to cancel $50,000 in federal student loan debt...

Now, make no mistake: Very often on the issue of student debt there has only been one narrative that people have heard. And that narrative does a deep disservice and injustice to the totality of burden and hurt and the psychological toll and impact of this debt. The student debt crisis has always been a racial and economic justice issue, but for too long, that narrative has excluded Black and Latinx communities when in fact the student debt crisis has exacerbated deeply entrenched racial and economic inequities in our nation.

Because of discriminatory policies like redlining, Black families were denied the ability to build generational wealth. 85% of Black students feel - not even feel, it's a reality - that they have no choice but to take out student loans. And they are 5 times more likely to default than their counterparts, than their other peers. So these disparities, they didn't just magically appear. They are the direct result of generations of precise, intentional policy violence - that's how I would characterize it - that has systematically denied Black and Latinx families the opportunity to build wealth and forced our families to take on higher rates of student debt for the chance at the same degree as our white counterparts...

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

So if President Biden is serious about closing the racial wealth gap, if President Biden seeks to Build Back Better, then he must use his executive authority to issue broad-based, across the board student debt cancellation...

I represent the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District - this is a vibrant, diverse, dynamic district - and it is one of the most unequal in our country. So while student debt cancellation would help communities nationwide, it would have an especially profound and transformative impact here in our Commonwealth. As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to ensure that our long-term recovery efforts leave no community behind. And that's why we're all here today. 

This is about investing in the people. That's what student debt cancellation is - good economic policy. It is an investment in the people-particularly Black and Brown families. That's why Senator Warren and I, in partnership with Senate Majority Leader Schumer and our other colleagues, re-introduced our resolution in Congress that calls on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt, and lays out a pathway for him to do so.

Our resolution has a record level of support across both chambers of Congress and is supported by over 325 grassroots organizations. The coalition behind student debt cancellation is the very same coalition that elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And it is a powerful coalition. With the stroke of a pen, President Biden can provide direct relief to tens of millions of families across the country, help close the racial wealth gap, and set our nation on a path to a long-term, equitable recovery. He can and must use this authority.

Elizabeth Warren: La'Kayla I want to start by saying thank you so much for telling your story because we are here about the stories of millions of people across this country who have a story that may not be identical to La'Kayla's but it resonates with it. People who took out student loan debt because they were trying to do their best, they were trying to get an education, and who through one move or another are now caught in a debt nightmare. We are calling on President Joe Biden to end that nightmare, we are calling on him for justice... 

Cancelling 50,000 of student loan debt is a matter of racial justice, it is a matter of economic justice, it is a matter of generational justice. On racial justice, cancelling $50,000 of student loan debt would close the Black-White wealth gap in America for those who have student loan debt by 25 points. There is no other single action that the President of the United States could take to help close that gap, to help bring families together, to help lift up families who, generation after generation have been left behind in the effort to build real wealth and wealth across generations. 

It is a matter of economic justice. Cancelling $50,000 of student loan debt is a matter of acknowledging that people who have tried to get an education and end up with student loan debt are disproportionately those who come from families that can't afford to write a check for college. 40% of the people who are dealing with student loan debt were not able to finish college - they had babies, they had three jobs, the transportation fell through, life happened. And they find themselves in jobs now that pay the way a job does for someone with a high school diploma but struggling to deal with student loan debt. 

Young people today increasingly cannot start small businesses if they have student loan debt... 

The Federal Reserve had tracked the data that show new business formation is being held back by student loan debt. Same thing is true on buying homes: people are not able to buy homes if they are dealing with the student loan debt burden.... 

And the third: this is a matter of generational justice... For a price I could pay for on a part-time waitressing job I could finish a 4-year diploma and become a special needs teacher. That opportunity is simply not out there today. For young people who are trying to get an education, unless they come from a family that can afford to write a check for tuition, it means debt. That is not how we build a future. We need to invest in the people who are struggling with student loan debt today and the best way we can invest in them is: cancel $50,000 of student loan debt. 

We're here today to ask President Biden, please, listen to the people across this country who need your help. Listen to those who want to build a stronger America going forward. Cancel student loan debt and give them the chance to do that. Thank you all.


Sera Congi, WCVB: Does cancelling up to $50,000, does that further the advantages of folks who maybe went to more expensive schools, more prestigious schools, maybe have those jobs that are higher wage earners...?

EW: ...One of the problems we have right now with student loan debt, it's affected so many people across such a range that people like La'Kayla may have $27,000 worth of student loan debt, but that is enough to keep you from buying a home, maybe enough to keep you from starting a small business. It may be enough to ruin your credit, enough to hold people back. So, when we looked at all the numbers around student loan debt, what we discovered is that what $50,000 will do is it will help close the racial wealth gap and it will free up many of those who were not able to graduate from college from having any debt so that they are free and clear. And then for those who have even more debt, it puts them ahead so they'll be able to pay it down...

AP: I would just like to add, again, we do a disservice when we perpetuate the idea that the face of student debt are white graduate students who went to Ivy Ivy League institutions. In fact, this is not just a millennial or Gen Z issue. 

The fastest growing population of those who owe student debt are 50+. In my district, as I have travelled it seeking to actively hear their stories and better understand how to address this nearly $2 trillion crisis, I want you to know that I have had people as old as 76 years old who told me they are still paying student debt. And that doesn't even include the educators, some of which, more generally Attorney General Healey was speaking about, who have lost their licensure to teach because they defaulted on loans - loans they took on because they wanted to be of service to their community. 

And let us not forget that under the prior administration, during this pandemic until we intervened, 54,000 people had wages and benefits garnished because of defaulted student loans. So I hope those enumerated examples there make plain that this is, the hurt it deep and it is wide, and again it is an economic justice issue, it is a racial justice issue, and I'll pick up on the words of our good Senator there, it is a generational issue. But please know that this is not just a millennial or Gen Z issue and we do a disservice to the issue when we define it simply by the institutions they went to, because that also leaves out those that have been adversely impacted by the predatory business practices and deceptive marketing of for-profit colleges and universities.


Lisa Kashinsky, Boston Herald: There was a report on Politico this morning actually that the President has asked his Education Secretary to create a memo looking into the legal authority to forgive loans or cancel the loan debt. Wanted to get your reaction to that and what steps need to happen beyond this?

AP: First, it is my understanding that the last amount President Biden had proposed was $10,000. 

Lisa Kashinsky: Do you think he'll now look into $50,000 according to this report?

AP: Well, that's great because in all the conversations that I've been a part of with impacted people, they say that $10,000 is not even interest. Congress gave President Biden the authority through the Higher Education Act to cancel debt. And so while we have introduced resolutions and legislation to get at this, why should the American people continue to struggle under the weight of this and wait for a legislative process when President Biden with a stroke of a pen by executive  action, authority given to him through the Higher Education Act can immediately mitigate this hurt. 

And again this is critical to a just, robust and equitable recovery from this pandemic. This is the moment. This does jump start the economy. It's about the recovery, it's economic justice, it's racial justice, it's generational justice and these goals are all consistent with the things that had been verbally expressed by this administration that they want to do. You know, I'm in ongoing communication with the White House and I'm grateful that those lines of communications remain open. 

I've been encouraged by those conversations but I told them listen, if you're going to speak to the role that Black women had played on the ballot and at the ballot box, Black women are the most educated and the most burdened by student debt, so you can say the words of appreciation. Policy is my love language. Cancel student debt. So he has the authority and moreover the mandate, a decisive mandate from the diverse coalition that elected him.