Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a payment towards her student loan debt during a committee meeting and called on Congress to take swift action on the issue.
“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 (£16,410.62),” the New York Democrat said at a meeting of the financial services committee focusing on student debt.
“I just made a payment that took me down to $19,000 (£15,412),” she added, “so I feel really accomplished right now.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to serve in the US House of Representatives, is one of 68 members of Congress with outstanding student loan debt, according to a Roll Call report published in March. Her total debt is lower than that of the Congressional average, which reportedly stands at $37,000 (£30,013).
The problem is even greater outside the halls of Congress. More than 42 million Americans are burdened by student loan debt, which has amounted to a staggering total of $1.5tn (£1.23tn) nationwide. It takes most students anywhere from 10 to 30 years to finish paying off their debt, and the national average per person stands at $31,172 (£25,292).
“I’m hearing people on this committee say it’s not our job,” she said. “This is our job.”
The 29-year-old politician has joined other first-term Democrats and progressive politicians in calling for comprehensive action on the national student debt issue, which some have described as a crisis.
Democrats like Ilhan Omar and Bernie Sanders have also called on Congress to cancel the entirety of student loan debt nationwide, a move they say would serve as a bailout for middle class America and provide opportunities for millennials to begin buying homes and saving for retirement.
Mr Sanders, who is running for president, has unveiled a bill that would cancel student loan debt entirely, while other 2020 hopefuls like Elizabeth Warren have released proposals to significantly reduce the total debt.
Speaking at an event the Vermont senator held to introduce his bill, Ms Ocasio-Cortez said it was “literally easier for me to become the youngest woman in American history elected to Congress than it is pay off my student loan debt”.
“So, that should tell you everything about the state of our economy and the state of quality of life for working people,” she added. “Because in order for me to get a chance to have health care, in order for me to get a chance to pay off my student loans, I had to do something that was nearly impossible.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez pointed her critical remarks at Republicans on the committee who have expressed opposition to student loan cancellation and some forgiveness programmes.
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