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Warren, Pressley urge Mass. borrowers to apply for student debt relief during Boston stop

U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley greet attendees at the Grove Hall Branch of the Boston Public Library in Dorchester during their speaking tour on student debt cancellation (Vanessa Ochavillo/WBUR)
U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley greet attendees at the Grove Hall Branch of the Boston Public Library in Dorchester during their speaking tour on student debt cancellation (Vanessa Ochavillo/WBUR)

A small crowd gathered in the community center of a Boston Public Library branch in Dorchester Tuesday morning to listen as U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley pumped up support for President Biden's new student debt relief program.

Many were there to celebrate the plan. Some were volunteers who stood by with laptops, ready to sign people up for the federal aid relief program.

And some were borrowers who had questions about how to proceed.

It's this last group Warren and Pressley aimed to reach during a four-city speaking tour Tuesday that included stops in Boston, Brockton, Worcester and Springfield. The goal? To encourage more Massachusetts residents to apply for the program.

The Biden administration has set a pause on loan payments until the end of this year.

At the Grove Hall Branch of the Boston Public Library, Warren and Presley celebrated the 22 million Americans nationwide who have already applied for relief since the federal application went live a little more than a week ago.

"We need everybody now to apply," Warren said. "Government is here to work for you. And it's not all the time that we get to say that. But this time we have the great first half of a victory. We've now got the policy in place. We need the second half, and that is [for] everybody [to] take advantage of it."

Pressley and Warren were part of a group of federal lawmakers who called on Biden in 2021 to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for federal student loan borrowers. Biden's plan — which would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for low-to-mid-income borrowers and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients, awarded to low-income college students — was announced in August.

A federal appeals judge has temporarily blocked the program, which prevents debt from being discharged. Still, the White House contends the federal government can still review applications.

According to U.S. Department of Education data, about 800,000 Massachusetts residents are eligible for at least $10,000 in relief through the program. Of those, around 400,000 are Pell Grant recipients.

Pressley, at Tuesday's event, added that roughly 100,000 people in her district, which stretches from Chelsea to Randolph, will benefit from this relief.

"This is a racial justice issue. It is a gender justice issue... And it is an economic justice issue impacting people from every walk of life," said Pressley, highlighting how people of color and women are disproportionately burdened by student debt.

Cadrienne Turner, a Dorchester resident, said she's struggled for years to pay off her student debt after earning her associate's degree at Newbury College and bachelor's degree at UMass Boston.

In 2011, Turner was laid off from her job as a financial analyst and then went on disability, both of which forced her to further defer payments.

"I'd like to know how a person in my situation can figure out how to pay off the student loan in total — not just the amount that President Biden is willing to write off," Turner said at Tuesday's event. "Because I'm at the point where I can't get any more deferments."

Peter Barros, executive director of La Vida Scholars, a college access program that serves low-income and first-generation college students, was among several advocates who attended Tuesday's stop in Boston in support of the relief program. Since 2007, Barros has counseled high school students in Lynn, and more recently Chelsea, about how to finance a college education.

He said he's been reaching out to over 300 alumni of La Vida Scholars to encourage them to apply for the program.

"We know that for our students, $10,000 or $20,000 (of loan forgiveness) is life changing," he said.

But he noted this program won't benefit future generations of college students — and that more needs to be done to make college more affordable moving forward.

"We want to see where the conversation goes from here — a year from now, two years from now, four years from now," he said. "We need to address the bigger crisis in this country of student debt and the rising costs of college and how they go hand in hand."

Related:

Vanessa Ochavillo Twitter Newsroom Fellow
Vanessa Ochavillo is a WBUR newsroom fellow.

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