Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is no stranger to sparking debate, and during a recent committee hearing, she used her political platform to highlight a mounting crisis: student loan debt.
Earlier in June, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a bold statement on the difficulties graduates face in paying off their student loan debt. “It was literally easier for me to become the youngest woman in American history elected to Congress than it is to pay off my student loan debt,” she declared at an event on Capitol Hill, when Senator Bernie Sanders presented a plan to eliminate $1.6 trillion of student loan debt.
Given Ocasio-Cortez’s historic election in the 2018 midterms, when she became the youngest woman to preside over the House of Representatives, the comparison was certainly a sensational one. But when presented with the figures showing more than 42 million Americans are burdened with the extortionate cost of tuition and fees for anywhere between 10-30 years, it’s not hard to see that the burden of significant debt is an unfortunate reality of many young adults’ lives.
At a House Financial Services Committee hearing this week, the New York Representative took up the mantle once more, as she revealed the extent of her own student debt, and in a move to emphasise her personal investment in the issue, made a payment on her student loan mid-meeting.
“I literally made a student loan payment while I was sitting here at this chair, and I looked at my balance, and it was $20,237.16,” she remarked during the hearing. “I just made a payment that took me down to $19,000 so I feel really accomplished right now.”
Ocasio-Cortez then called on Congress to recognise their responsibility in addressing the staggering US student debt, which currently stands at nearly $1.6 trillion. Not only that, but to find solutions for new graduates struggling to make repayments.
“I’m hearing people on this committee say it’s not our job,” she continued. “This is our job.”
Since rising to prominence, Ocasio-Cortez, who graduated from Boston University in 2011 with a degree in economics and international relations, has regularly used her platform to speak out about the student debt crisis. The US lawmaker has a personal stake in the issue of student loan debt, and according to a Roll Call report published earlier in the year, is one of 68 members of Congress with outstanding student loan debt.
Eliminating student debt is also a priority of many of the Democratic candidates running in the 2020 election, and it will prove to be an important issue for voters in the presidential race. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris are among the top progressive politicians who support the limitation, and in some instances, the entire cancellation of student loan debt nationwide.
Given the national average per American paying off student loan debt stands at $31,172 (£25,292), Ocasio-Cortez is right: if young adults are to stand a chance of future security, the federal government must step up with new policies. But since Donald Trump has announced no initiatives to tackle the crisis, except an order to cancel debt for disabled veterans, it looks as though a lot more campaigning is needed to change the state of play.