October 10, 2019

Senator Warren Joins House Majority Whip Clyburn at Town Hall on Student Debt at South Carolina State University

Warren and Clyburn Shared Their Plan to Significantly Reduce Student Loan Debt With Students and Community Members

Warren: "We are disproportionately crushing a generation of students of color. That is not how a country builds a future, and we've got to change that."

Video (Facebook)

Orangeburg, S.C. - Yesterday, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined House Majority Whip, Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) at a town hall to discuss their legislation, the Student Loan Debt Relief Act. The town hall took place on the campus of South Carolina State University, a public, historically black college and university (HBCU).

In July, Congressman Clyburn and Senator Warren introduced legislation to eliminate up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million Americans - providing debt relief to 95% of student borrowers, including cancelling student debt entirely for 75% of borrowers. This bicameral legislation, the Student Loan Debt Relief Act, would end the student debt crisis, help millions of struggling families obtain financial stability, and take meaningful steps to begin to close the racial wealth gap.

More information about the legislation is available here, and a full video of the town hall can be watched here.

A transcript of Senator Warren's opening remarks at the event is below.

Transcript: Remarks by Senator Elizabeth Warren at Town Hall on Student Debt
October 9, 2019
South Carolina State University
Video (Facebook)

Let me start by saying thank you very much to President Clark for your warm welcome, to the South Carolina State University. Bulldogs -- go Bulldogs! I love being part of the family. And a very special thank you to all of you for sharing the stage here with us. The Miss Emily Clyburn scholars, you carry a name of great meaning in this state and across this country. Much is expected of you but I know you that will deliver on it, so thank you very much for being here. And most of all, a very special thank you to the Congressman. You know, I have a lot of plans, and I get teased about this, but it is really important that we focus on how we're gonna make a difference in people's lives. And when the Congressman's folks called over and said we're interested in taking a look at the student loan debt forgiveness bill, I gotta tell you, my heart leapt, because I thought ooh, if I get somebody like Congressman Clyburn, who is such an important figure in the United States House of Representatives, to say "I'm interested in this bill"-maybe even to back this bill, that's what lifts it up.

And I'll just be blunt with all of you. I get it. Right now, Mitch McConnell is not likely to give us a vote in the Senate on this. But, the importance of being able to lift this up in the House, the importance of being able to start hearings on this, the importance of making this part of the agenda for how we understand as Democrats to build a future not just for some of our kids, but to build a future for all of our kids, cannot be overstated. I am deeply grateful to the Congressman for lifting this issue up and moving it forward. Thank you, Congressman, thank you.

So we'll talk about whatever you all want to talk about. About college and college costs, and all those things, but I just want to start by laying down a little bit of foundation on student loan debt because it is so powerfully important. We've got about 45 million Americans who are dealing with student loan debt. Right now, it's about a trillion and a half dollars outstanding, the total. And here's one for you. The interest rates and fees are going up so fast. I want you to think about this. The number of kids in college -- not going up very fast, right? Some kids graduate every year, some new ones come in, but the interest and fees are starting to accumulate -- it's like a snowball rolling downhill -- that the amount of student loan debt is going up annually at a rate of about a hundred billion dollars a year. Think about that. And it's just rolling over an entire generation of young people who -- what did they do? Did they go to the mall and hoop it off? Nope. They tried to get an education. And it's falling particularly hard on African-American students. African-American students are more likely to have to borrow money to go to college, more likely to borrow more money while they're in college, and more likely to have trouble paying it off after they get out of college.

So we're not only crushing an entire generation under the weight of student loan debt, we are disproportionately crushing a generation of students of color. That is not how a country builds a future, and we've got to change that.

So the Congressman and I have a plan to be able to cancel a big hunk of that student loan debt. It's got a lot of details to it, we're glad to talk about the details if anyone wants, but here's the part I want you all to hear. We can do this. As the Congressman says, we use different funding ways to get there and we can talk about the advantages to your route and my route, but the point is we know what the goal is. And there are a lot of folks with us on this goal. Teachers across this country, university presidents across this country, just hardworking families across this country, the NAACP, all behind us on getting this done. And with the Congressman, we now start to build real momentum on this.

Now, I just want to make a point as we think about this student loan problem. The Congressman made a good point about why it happens now. I want to tell you about when I went to college. So, I grew up in a paycheck-to-paycheck family, and I've had the same dream since I was in second grade. I wanted to be a teacher. That's what I wanted. I wanted to be a public school teacher. By the time I graduated from high school, my family didn't have the money for a college application, much less to send me off to four years at a university. Nobody in my little family had graduated from college. My big chance was a commuter college, back then, that cost 50 dollars a semester. Think about that. On a price I could pay for on a part-time waitressing job, I could finish a four-year diploma.

Student loan debt was not something you had to do in order to get an education, and today, that opportunity just isn't out there for our kids. We're not giving that kind of public support to our colleges and universities. Instead, we have shifted from an America that said in effect, "you want to do the hard work, kid, we'll keep a few pathways open for you to be able to get an education." Now, that has shifted over to "you want to get an education, this is how much it costs, and the state will help pick up some of this, but the rest is on you and your family." And the consequence of that over time is just to burden our kids more and more and more.

I now meet people at town halls, I meet them out on the street, and they'll start by holding their hand out and saying, "$46,200. $28,900. $64,020. That's how much student loan debt I've got. I work second and third jobs"-I talk to public school teachers now who work second and third jobs, and the entire second and third paycheck goes towards trying to pay off their student loan debt.  And understand, if you don't have anybody who's trying to struggle with student loan debt-you're out of it, you don't have kids, you don't have grandkids, you don't have neighbors or friends-I don't know where you're living, but if you don't have anybody who's dealing with student loan debt, you still should care, because it's affecting our entire economy.

The Fed has been watching the data on this, the Treasury Department, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and what we're starting to see now is young people are not buying homes at the rate we would expect them to. That holds back our entire economy. They're not buying cars, they're not moving out of their parents' home. Here's one: they're not even starting their own businesses. And why? Because they've got to make that student loan monthly payment. So, I think of this as two things. It's about how we build a future as a country, and it's also about what kind of a people we are. Who is it we believe we should be investing in? And Congressman Clyburn and I are here today because we believe that the way we invest in a future for all of Americans, is first of all, let's get rid of this student loan debt. So thank you all for being here.