By Danielle Silva
The Student Debt Cancellation Resolution passed the ASUCD Senate with six votes for and two votes against. If passed by the student government, a staff member of Congressman John Garamendi states he will respond to it.
The Student Debt Cancellation Act, also known as H.R. 3448, is a bill introduced to Congress on June 24, 2019. Written by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the Student Debt Cancellation Act proposes forgiving all eligible Federal and private student loans. The Student Debt Cancellation Resolution, written by Vice President of Associated Students, UC Davis (ASUCD) Shreya Deshpande, would show ASUCD support behind the passage of H.R. 3448.
“This is not a partisan issue. This is a basic needs issue, this is a mental health issue. This is an issue that affects the equitable access of students trying to gain a public education and I hope that this resolution passes successfully,” Deshpande stated in addressing the resolution.
In opening the floor to public discussion, two senators discussed issues with the resolution.
ASUCD President Pro Tempore of the Senate Andre Spignolio believed that, while student debt is a crisis, he does not believe that the Student Debt Cancellation Act is a direct solution. He stated that the bill in its current format only addresses the debt of past and present students. Spignoloio argues that this ignores the need for a long-term resolution for a systematic problem. He also believes that the Student Debt Cancellation Act would encourage students to go to college making “chaotic decisions,” as they may believe another bill like H.R. 3448 may come around.
“I believe it incentivizes the wrong things,” Spignolio stated.
ASUCD Senator Maya Barak also expressed hesitation with the bill, hesitating with the resolution supporting the “passage” of the Student Debt Cancellation Act. She noted that if the bill were to change, the resolution could be misinterpreted and ASUCD could be supporting a completely different bill altogether. Barak noted her hesitation in putting her name on the bill as she doesn’t know
enough about it. The senator suggested changing the term “passage” to “sentiment,” an amendment she felt more comfortable with.
In response to these oppositions, many members of the public and the Senate expressed their disagreements with but understandings of the senators’ opinions.
In addressing Spignolio’s concern that there was no long-term solution for student debt, the College for All Act, also known as S.R. 1997, was also explained to the ASUCD Senate, a bill that gives free tuition to 80% of students. ASUCD President Justin Hurst also added that, while tuition is a part of students’ financial problems, there is also a need to address the basic needs of student housing, food security, and mental health.
Isaac Flores, a fourth-year student, expressed how the ASUCD Senate should support the bill, as not doing so would be “irrational” as it would be “allowing an entire generation of students to be shackled.
“Student debt holds back our entire generation,” Flores stated. He noted how Spignolio’s concerns didn’t provide solutions to the senator’s hesitations.
Like members of the Senate and the public noted, some students need to work through school in order to support themselves. Morganne Blais-McPherson, a UC Davis graduate student, shared how many students are affected by student loans and, being a teacher’s assistant herself, knows that many grad students have to take out loans and her own income is very low. She also noted how many students can’t afford the money and time to even graduate with a degree. ASUCD Senator Shondreya Landrum personally shared how her mother gathered $400,000 in loans but didn’t get a degree as she turned to take care of her family. ASUCD Acting Chair of Academic Affairs Naomi Reeley shared how she had to work three jobs, while Flores noted he worked twp jobs during his time as an undergraduate. Flores even shared how he worked and served food for people while not having eaten for 48 hours himself.
In concerns with Barak’s hesitations with the passage of the current bill, ASUCD Senator Anna Estrada did note that the bill had just been introduced and could undergo changes after being reviewed by three committees just before being brought to the floor. The bill could look completely different from how it is at the moment. One Senate member recommended amending the document to specify the passage of the current form of the Student Debt Cancellation Act.
However, members of the public and the author of the resolution stated their desire for the resolution to support the “passage” of the bill as “sentiment” diluted the meaning. Kevin, a student present in the public, noted that he had been at the Cancel All Student Debt Town Hall with testimonials that were powerful and therefore needed a powerful resolution. Deshpande also agreed that they wanted to keep the term “passage” to prevent dilution of the meaning.
Issues of representation and the possibilities of if the bill does or does not get passed also raised some concerns.
Hurst noted how Garamendi has UC Davis in his district but doesn’t do well in addressing the concerns of students. He noted how it was important to empower students in demanding basic needs and making more equitable situations. Blais-McPherson also noted how many students may have to stop seeking an education because of the funds or may not have even gone to college because they could not afford it.
Connor, a member of the public, noted that student debt needed to be addressed and the Student Debt Cancellation Act already had a movement and legislation behind it. ASUCD Senator Victoria Choi noted that there is no guarantee of what the effects of the bill will be – the effects could be positive or negative.
The voting concluded with six approvals and two rejections, coming from Spignolio and Barak.
Following the voting, the meeting was adjourned in the usual manner. Two members of the audience addressed how Spignolio’s and Barack’s arguments were “thinly veiled excuses to shoot down the bill,” as they didn’t elaborate on other solutions. They also believed if the bill changed, ASUCD could redact the statement.
Spignolio noted that, while he personally didn’t support the bill, he was happy the legislative process went the way it did. He stated that if the majority of the Senate believed it should be passed, as representatives of the student body the passing of the bill was the correct course of action.
Following the passage of this resolution through the Senate, this will next be sent to the ASUCD Judicial Court to check for legal conflicts and then to the desk of the ASUCD president. Deshpande believes there may be some hesitations, but the bill will pass as it is a “non-partisan issue.” The ASUCD Vice President noted that they had spoken to a member of Congressman John Garamendi’s staff who stated he would respond once the resolution has passed.