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Sen. Warren discusses student loan debt forgiveness, codifying federal reproductive rights at North Adams City Hall

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to reporters in North Adams, Massachusetts city hall while State Senator Adam Hinds looks on.
Josh Landes
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to reporters in North Adams, Massachusetts city hall while State Senator Adam Hinds looks on.

Democratic Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was in North Adams, Massachusetts Friday afternoon. She spoke with reporters about the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program and securing abortion access through federal legislation.

While Warren’s own calls for student loan debt forgiveness have been for more than twice the $20,000 maximum President Joe Biden’s order called for, she says she’s looking at the bright side of the situation.

“First thing I remember when I wake up in the morning is that 20 million Americans who had student loan debt are now completely free and clear, and another 23 million Americans have lower debt loads than they had before,” said Warren. “Did I want more help? Sure I did. And will I keep fighting for it? Of course I will. But we need to take a moment to celebrate the change this makes in people's lives. The majority of people will get $20,000 in relief, and that's going to have a disproportionate impact on working families, on people who need it most. About half of all Latinos who owe money on student loans will see their debts completely wiped out. About 45% of all African Americans will see their loans completely wiped out. The help here will disproportionately go to racial minorities, but will also go to first generation college students. It will go to mamas and daddies who are trying to go back to school and trying to advance opportunities for their families. It will go to veterans. Those will be the primary recipients of this. More than 95% of this help will go to families that make less than $75,000 a year. I always remember about this, these are folks who did everything we wanted them to do. They finished high school, they went in for post high school education, some went to technical school, to beauty school, or air conditioning repair. Others went to college. 40% of them didn't make it through to a college diploma, but they tried to invest in themselves and now they're getting crushed by student loan debt. And for the 60% that did make it through to a college diploma, keep in mind, these are principally people who went to state schools, not fancy private schools. These are people who went to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, these are people who have tried, and student loan debt has meant a lot of them can't move out of their mom's basement, they can't save up money to buy a home, they can't start a small business, that can't even start a family for many of them. So we're living in a moment where the President of United States has reached out literally to tens of millions of families and said, I'm putting government on your side. And I love that.”

Warren was asked for her reaction to critics of the plan who frame it as a giveaway.

“I don't know what kind of bubble they live in, but is there anybody left in America who doesn't know some of those 43 million people who are out there busting their tails every day, working two jobs and three jobs, and watching their debt loads continue to go up?” asked the senator. “We have created an America right now where if your folks can afford to write a check for you to go to school, you're going to do just fine. But if you're born into a family that can't afford it, you now take on debt loads that are crushing. This is deeply unfair. As I've been in this fight, I always remember that my daddy was a janitor, and I wanted to be a public school teacher more than anything in the world. I got that chance at the University of Houston for $50 a semester. For a price I could pay for on a part-time waitressing job, I could graduate from a four-year college with no debt and become a special education teacher. That opportunity does not exist anywhere in America today. Instead, that same kid who is the daughter of a janitor has to take on debt, that then makes it virtually impossible for her to get on her feet and build some security going forward. The President has stepped up and helped those families. We need to do three things: The first one is deal with the debt that is has built up. The second is to have a way for families to pay going forward, and an important part of the President's announcement yesterday is not only that we're going to change the income determined repayment plan, we're going to say effectively, if you go to school, when you come out on the other side, we're going to make sure you never have to go through this kind of debt hell. But the third thing we need to do is bring down the cost of higher ed. And that means we need to be making more public investments. The reason I could go to college for $50 a semester was because the good taxpayers invested in our public institutions, and that kept tuition low. In addition to that, we need to be making more federal investment into our schools, and we need to be asking our schools to be more transparent about the costs overall so that students can make good decisions up front about the graduation rates, how long it takes to graduate, and how their students are doing on the other side. So there's a lot of work to do that Congress needs to do, because that's the place where the tools lie that Congress needs to do on keeping down the cost of higher ed. But we need to hit all three of these. A nation does best when it invests in the education of its young people, and the President's taken an important step in that direction.”

Warren responded to a question about how she intends to continue to press for more student debt loan forgiveness from the White House.

“One of the things that we all see today is how many people have been helped at the $20,000 level,” she answered. “At the $30,000 level, we can help some more people. We can find different ways to direct help. So for example, there are 33,000 Americans who, before the pandemic, were having their social security checks garnished to pay for student loan debt that was outstanding. We can target relief to more people who need it, and I'll be in that fight all the way.”

Asked if Democrats intend to codify reproductive health care access at the federal level, Warren said it all hinged on this November’s midterm elections.

“As soon as we get two more Democratic senators and hang on to the House, and I'm looking at you Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” said Warren. “If we pick up those two Senate seats and hold on to our other Senate seats, we can then roll back the filibuster and Roe vs. Wade will be the law of the land, along with voting rights, better gun safety, universal child care. We can make a lot of changes we need to make, but we've got to have two more senators.”

Warren was in North Adams to meet with the Hoosic River Revival about long overdue upgrades to the crumbling infrastructure that shunts the waterway through the city.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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