Cancel Student Loan Debt

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 2, 2021
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. TLAIB. Madam Speaker, I thank so much Representative Bowman for hosting this critically important Special Order hour tonight.

Representative Bowman said something that really resonated with me. When I was a senior in high school, they really did make it sound like that money was free. That money was far from free, as we know.

Students in our country have become profit centers. They really, truly have, and it is ruining lives.

One of the first ever townhalls I had when I first got elected was in western Wayne, in Wayne County, Michigan.

A young lady, after I opened it up for questions, stood up. She stood up very strong and looked over at me and started crying, in tears, telling me just how incredibly hard it is to be able to survive, become a homeowner, to be able to move on. She told me about how much it felt like she was trapped, like she was hostage to the student loan debt, and the fact that all she wanted to do was give back. She wanted to get her degree and come back to the community that raised her, come back to the community and give back, and it was so incredibly hard.

Today, as we hear over and over again, 15 million of our neighbors across our country owe trillions in outstanding student debt. That alone should resonate with so many of my colleagues. This must become a national priority.

One of the things that I think is important, as we hear about these stories, is the human impact. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school. My father only went up to a 4th grade education, my mother, an 8th grade education. My father came here at 19 years old. They could have never imagined, of course, their daughter being able to graduate from high school and go on to college. Yes, I worked full-time Monday through Friday and took weekend classes to get my law degree and still had close to $200,000 in debt. I still owe over $70,000, and most of it is interest. Most of it was our own government making money and profit off of me.

And guess what? I didn't go to work for the for-profit entities. I went to legal aid. I worked at the nonprofit organization fighting for the right to breathe clean air, to fight for the worker that was getting their wage taken and stolen by their employer. I worked on immigrant rights and so much more.

All of that is to say, we have to stop treating folks paying for their education as if they bought some bougie car or something big, something beyond them. But, no, they were seeking an education.

As many of my colleagues will tell you, there is that counselor in the hallway that would pull us aside and say, Rashida, where is your application for college? You have got to apply. And I am like, I am the eldest of 14, Coach Watson--it was Coach Perry Watson at Southwestern High School. He still remembers pulling me into his office because he didn't get an application from me--and I said, I am the eldest of 14; I can't go--my parents are working-class folks; my dad worked on the line at Ford Motor Company--and say, Hey, dad, help me out here; I want to go to college.

So all of that is to say, yeah, they sat us down. Of course, there was the Pell grant and all of that. Of course, there was. But at the end, it was still a struggle. It was still a struggle. Because guess what, some of that money you couldn't use for certain things. I remember this. They changed stuff a little bit after I graduated. But still, I had to work. I had to figure out how to pay for the gas to get to the school and so much more.

But I think it is really important to know, in my home State of Michigan, I think the average loan borrower now is close to $35,000 in debt. You have to add on the healthcare costs, the rent, the utilities, car payments, and so much more to just really live your life.

So the majority of our American people, our neighbors right now, educated or not, live check by check. They literally live check by check. Add to that the average of $250 or more for student loans, it is really holding people back.

When I look at my State--my district is the third poorest congressional district in the country. When I look at the eyes and look at the families that I represent and they come to our townhalls and talk about the struggles and ``please help, make government about people, make it about us, put us first.'' One of the things that I continue to hear, the common theme is: We didn't do anything wrong. We just went to go get access to higher education. They feel like they are being penalized. They feel, truly, that the interest rates--I read this--that the interest rates are one of the silent killers when it comes to debt repayment. They feel like they are being punished for doing something that they were taught to do, right? They go to college, do right, work hard, and they feel like they are being penalized.

The cost of education in our country just continues to increase. We all know that. We see it over and over again. So what sounds like something that can't be solved, that it is something impossible, it actually is not that complex.

President Biden has the ability, his administration has the ability, with the stroke of a pen, to help millions of our neighbors across the country to get out of student debt.

We are far from putting this pandemic behind us. It has been a struggle for many of us. Yes, these payments are going to be coming due. Folks are so anxious about it, even planning now. Folks are sending me messages on social media, What do I do about Christmas? Because I know around the corner, I have got to start repaying the student loans.

It is difficult to put into words just how big of a difference relieving this heavy burden would make in the lives of so many of my residents.

I am grateful to stand here with many of my colleagues joining in this fight. Rarely, if ever, in politics are you presented with an easy solution to such an impossible problem. But this one isn't. This one is pretty easy. We are the ones. The government is profiting off of people, and we have got to stop.

I think when we, again, make government about people and we put them first, then I think it is going to be an easy decision for the administration and for President Biden to come up with the plan that is needed to really help that young lady that came to my townhall, and so many others, in making this a national priority.

I can tell you, they all know, and they were all doing what they were supposed to be doing and at the end, they are still struggling.

I know my colleague is not a millionaire, but I always like reminding people of this. The majority of my colleagues in this Chamber are. They don't understand the struggle of living check by check. They don't understand. Some of them may not be close in understanding the pain of that student loan debt that is really heavy on so many families.

So I stand here in solidarity with my colleagues in saying, let's do the right thing, let's make this a national priority, let's get an executive order done, and let's help millions of Americans that did nothing wrong except wanting to access a higher education which, as they were told, was access to a beautiful, vibrant life in our country.

Again, we can't continue to make them a profit center. We have to make them our priority, and they deserve to be able to live and thrive in our country.