Pressley meets with constituents in Roxbury
Student debt relief, maternal health among concerns heard
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley responded to constituent questions and concerns about student debt relief, Black maternal health, reparations and climate change at a Boston event on Oct. 19.
The event, part of a series called Coffee with the Congresswoman where community members can meet with Pressley, was hosted by Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) at the Thelma Burns Building in Roxbury. Pressley represents the 7th Massachusetts District, which includes Boston, Chelsea, Everett, Cambridge, Somerville, Milton and Randolph.
High on Pressley’s list of priorities at the event was ensuring constituents know about and have access to President Joe Biden’s federal student debt relief.
In an update about her legislative priorities ahead of answering constituent questions, Pressley highlighted the diverse array of people she has seen impacted by student debt, including parents who helped take out loans for their children and cannot retire because they are still paying off the loans, millennials and members of Generation Z who are unable to purchase a home or start a business, and senior citizens worried about being able to pay off their loans before the end of their life. For those reasons, she said this has been a priority for her and her colleagues in Congress.
“We were able to prove the president did have the authority; we were able to prove that this was impacting people from every walk of life; and we were able to get a pause on student loan payments — three pauses during this pandemic,” Pressley said. “And we’re glad about that, because now that President Biden has taken this unprecedented action and used his authority to provide some meaningful relief, in the instances in our district, some 344,000 in the Massachusetts 7th will have their debt balances wiped out completely.”
Pressley said that there is still work to do, after the push for cuts in student debt led Biden to cancel student debt up to $10,000 for millions of borrowers earning less than $125,000 annually, and up to $20,000 for recipients of need-based federal Pell Grants.
“We fought to get this done, now I remain squarely focused on implementation,” Pressley said. “And I will do that in my capacity serving on the Oversight Committee to make sure that this student debt relief, and in the instances of hundreds of thousands that will have actual cancellation, happens in a way that is equitable, that is efficient and that is streamlined.”
Beyond student debt forgiveness, she said, more steps should be taken when it comes to higher education in the United States.
“We need to make greater investment in Pell grants. We need to invest in in our historically Black colleges and universities. And I do believe federally, we need to invest in higher education as the public good that it is; we need tuition-free college,” Pressley said. “I’m not just talking the talk; I’m walking the walk on that. Through … Community Project Funding, I did deliver a $1 million investment to Bunker Hill Community College as a part of the city of Boston’s pilot program to support tuition-free college.”
Black maternal health
In response to a constituent question, Pressley also focused on Black maternal health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black women are about three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women.
“I remain squarely focused on combating the black maternal morbidity crisis … ensuring that we’re making those robust investments in reproductive access and in health care,” Pressley said.
Among efforts to address issues with Black maternal health, Pressley cited her support for the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act, which would create new requirements for women who are pregnant or recently gave birth, for instance, restricting the use of restraints on pregnant women.
She also referenced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, a suite of legislation designed to address issues with maternal health, particularly in racial and ethnic minority groups, through measures such as increasing data collection about maternal morbidity and mortality, providing grants, and addressing other issues related to maternal health, such as food security and child care.
“We’ve made great strides in that space,” Pressley said. “It is a priority of the Biden-Harris administration, it remains a priority of the Black Maternal Health caucus under the Congressional Black Caucus, and [there is] more work to be done.”
Pressley also discussed efforts for reparations, both at federal and at local levels. She cited federal efforts, such as the GI Bill Restoration Act, which would give financial benefits to descendants and surviving spouses of Black World War II veterans, and the American Opportunity Accounts Act, which would create a $1,000 savings account for children at birth, with annual contributions based on family income that could be used for specific purposes like educational expenses and home ownership.
She said she also sees room for reparations efforts at state and local levels, which she suggested could move faster than efforts at the national level, citing examples of other pieces of legislation that have made progress in Massachusetts but not in the U.S. Congress.
“Thanks to the [Massachusetts] state legislature, we have the Roe Act, so there’s still access to abortion care here because the state legislature stood in the gap,” Pressley said.
In response to a question on measures to address climate change, Pressley called it “the existential threat to our very survivability, not just livability.” She said the Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law by Biden in August and is designed to offer tax cuts for clean energy production as well as offer loans to help build facilities that produce clean vehicles, has made some strides, but not enough.
“I think that we can’t move incrementally, and we have to move with boldness and urgency,” Pressley said. “And we have to make sure that we are addressing our climate and sustainability and resiliency goals across all those other issues. Climate is not something that can be siloed. It’s affecting everything.”
Before Pressley’s comments, Sharon Scott-Chandler, president and CEO of ABCD, welcomed Pressley and thanked her for her work.
“When the congresswoman’s office called us and said, ‘Can we host Coffee and Conversation with the congresswoman?’ we said a resounding ‘Yes,’” Scott-Chandler said. “We are so lucky to have her as a congresswoman.”
Pressley said that events like the one on Oct. 19 are important for how she wants to work as a member of Congress.
“It is so important to us to continue to engage in two-way dialogue with community. I really believe in cooperative governing,” Pressley said. “It’s conversations like this, and actively listening to, learning from and being led by your lived experiences, that informs the policies that I write and the votes that I take and the investments that I advocate for in our budgets.”