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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Murphy, Blumenthal discuss what student loan debt cancellation means for state residents

    Hartford ―Joined by a group of nurses benefiting by the measure, Democratic U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy discussed the importance of partially canceling student loan debt during a news conference Tuesday morning.

    Among the nurses were Sherri Dayton, an emergency room nurse and president of the Backus Hospital Federation of Nurses. According to statistics from the National Student Nurses’ Association, an average registered nurse graduate graduates with between $20,000 and $47,000 in debt.

    “I’m very excited about this student loan forgiveness, not just for myself but for other nurses like me who have to consider the cost before going after our dreams,” Dayton said. “I know a lot of the members in the hospital I work at will get a lot of benefit from it.”

    Blumenthal added, “Our nurses and teachers are the backbone of our economy, our health care and educational system, and they bear this crushing burden as much or more than anyone. That’s why we asked nurses to be here today.”

    The senators’ news conference comes on the heels of President Joe Biden announcing a new program that will delete $10,000 or, for Pell Grant recipients, $20,000, of student loans for millions of people.

    Almost 500,000 borrowers in Connecticut harbor around $17.5 billion in student loan debt, with an average of slightly more than $35,000 in debt per borrower, according to the Education Data Initiative. Blumenthal began the news conference by saying the new federal program will help state residents who have not been able to buy a home, start a family, begin a business, and so on.

    Blumenthal said the “most exciting part” of the program isn’t the student loan debt cancellation, but the capping the percentage of people’s discretionary income that they pay towards their loans.

    Murphy made the case that the student loan cancellation program will be more impactful in Connecticut than in other states.

    “It’s expensive, as a young person, to decide to start your life in Connecticut. Housing costs a little bit more, cost of living is a little bit higher, quality of life is better here,” Murphy said.

    The program, announced two weeks ago, stipulates that people with federally owned student loans who are not high-income borrowers qualify. People must make less than $125,000 yearly, or $250,000 per household, to qualify. Most people will have $10,000 in debt wiped away, although certain borrowers could have up to $20,000. It has been called a sweeping move by some — it provides relief to around 43 million Americans and rids debt entirely for about 20 million people. But millions are still left in significant debt; the cumulative federal student loan debt is at $1.6 trillion.

    Leora Levy, Blumenthal’s opponent for Senate in the November election, said in a statement Tuesday that she rejects the premise of student loan cancellation, asking, “People struggling to pay grocery bills, put gas in their car, and buy back-to-school supplies for their children are expected to pay other peoples’ loans too?”

    "It is outrageous that Blumenthal is celebrating replacing personal responsibility with another Government hand-out,” Levy continued in her statement. “Not only will this encourage others to take loans that they cannot afford to repay, it will also further drive skyrocketing inflation. Democrats are forcing a transfer of wealth from those who elected to pursue a trade, live frugally to pay off their own debt or took no debt, to adult Americans who knowingly chose to take on more debt than they could afford to repay.”

    Dayton spoke to her experience and the experience of other Backus Hospital nurses.

    “My dream of becoming a nurse started when I was in preschool. I’ve been in the medical field for 30 years, but I had to take a really long hard road to get there because of student loans and debt,” Dayton said.

    Dayton described this roundabout road she was forced to take to get her education. She said it took 12 years to go back to school and earn her bachelor’s after she’d earned her associate’s degree.

    “I was raising a family and didn’t want to put us in debt,” Dayton said.

    Dayton most recently hoped to obtain her master’s degree so she could educate future nurses.

    “Unfortunately nursing faculty don’t make more than acute care (nurses), and I’d accumulate $50,000 or so in debt. I’d be putting myself in debt to make the same amount of money, which is unfortunate because we need nursing faculty desperately.”

    “I’m very excited about this student loan forgiveness, not just for myself but for other nurses like me who have to consider the cost before going after our dreams,” Dayton added. “I know a lot of the members in the hospital I work at will get a lot of benefit from it.”

    Asked what should be done about the more than $1 trillion in student loan debt remaining, most of which is from private providers, Blumenthal said he was supportive of a measure that would have provided $50,000 in debt cancellation. He said such a policy should be “accompanied by controlling the cost of tuition.”

    “We can’t get the votes in the Senate right now with uniform Republican opposition to private student loan forgiveness,” Murphy added to Blumenthal’s comments. “Biden waited a year and a half to see if we could convince Republicans to join us to pass more broadly applicable student loan forgiveness. Biden decided he wasn’t going to punish those with public loans just because Republicans don’t want to cancel private student loans.”

    Asked whether borrowers still have incentive to pay back loans after seeing how easily the President can cancel such loans, Murphy said people do still have that incentive while loans are due because not doing so could affect a borrower’s credit score, “even if you’re guessing down the line there will be another forgiveness of debt.”

    s.spinella@theday.com

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