With six weeks to go until tens of millions of Americans will be required to restart payments of their student debt, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday shared the stories of some of her constituents who have struggled with the "cruel impact" of the student loan system.
In an email to supporters, the New York Democrat shared the story of LeeAnn, a nurse living in Connecticut who will have to begin paying down $30,000 in student loans again starting February 1, nearly two years after Congress imposed a payment moratorium due to the coronavirus pandemic. Having grown up in poverty, LeeAnn was uncertain she could afford nursing school, but she was assured that if she took out a loan to get her education it would be forgiven once she started working.
"I'm 32 years old and Im still over $30,000 in debt. I'm currently working in the public school system and I only make $54,000 a year... I'm dreading February 2022."
"Thankfully, I was eligible for financial aid for a little while, but I ended up needing to take out $30,000 to get me through my Bachelors degree," LeeAnn told the congresswoman. "All along the way, teachers, advisors, counselors, loan officers, everyone told me the same thing: 'Your loans will be forgiven when you become a nurse because youre serving the community.' Well, needless to say, they were wrong."
"I'm 32 years old and I'm still over $30,000 in debt. I'm currently working in the public school system and I only make $54,000 a year," she continued. "In Connecticut, that truly isn't much money. I'm dreading February 2022."
Ocasio-Cortez shared LeeAnn's story after soliciting personal accounts of student loan repayment struggles from constituents, garnering more than 250 submissions.
"The stories shared are heartbreaking reminders of the cruel and painful burden student loans place on individuals and their families," Ocasio-Cortez wrote to supporters in an email Thursday, urging them to "keep up the pressure on President Biden to cancel student loan debt."
The campaign comes days after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that after numerous extensions of the student debt moratorium by both the Trump and Biden administrations, the White House is "focused on starting repayment" on February 1.
The administration's plan appears to be moving forward even as the Omicron variant is expected to overwhelm healthcare systems and despite survey data from the Student Debt Crisis Center showing that 89% of borrowers are not financially secure enough to begin repayment, even if they are employed,
According to the data, more than 25% of people will have to spend at least a third of their income on student debt payments, and nearly nine in 10 people say the moratorium "has been critical to their financial well-being during the pandemic."
The congresswoman shared constituents' stories after talking about her own struggle to pay off her student loans on the House floor earlier this month.
"I was 17 years old when college recruiters started coming to my high school saying, 'This is worth it,' and we still do that today because it's teenagers signing up for what is often hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt," said Ocasio-Cortez. "I'm 32 years old now. I have over $17,000 in student loan debt, and I didn't go to graduate school because I knew that getting another degree would drown me in debt that I would never be able to surpass."
Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday also shared the story of Sabrina, a first-generation American and graduated college with "thousands in debt."
"I think about how I am going to have to pay hundreds a month instead of using that money to help my family pay our bills and pursue the American Dream," Sabrina said. "Student loan debt is holding back millions from pursuing their dreams and investing in their families."
Sabrina noted that, as legal experts and Democratic lawmakers have said, student debt can be canceled by President Biden under the Higher Education Act.
"We have seen the benefits that student loan cancellation can have during the year and nine months of the emergency Covid-19 forbearance in effect. It has given people the breathing room to take care of their families and to start investing in their futures," said Ocasio-Cortez Thursday. "No person should have to go into lifelong debt in order to get an education. Its wrong. Its backwards. And, it doesnt help us as a country."