Donise Keller, UDW member. (Photo provided by member)

Donise Keller, a California childminder and United Domestic Workers (UDW) member, is among millions facing crippling student debt. In her twenties, in an effort to better her life and that of her children, she enrolled in a trade school.

“I was 26 and withdrew about $26,000 over about two to three years,” Keller said. “And it just exploded. Now I owe about $50,000. School was very expensive. But they told me not to worry about it, we will give you loans and scholarships because you are low income. That’s all I heard and didn’t know enough about loans to ask.

A mother of three, Keller could only watch her loans collect interest month after month. She couldn’t afford to repay them, getting stuck in a never-ending cycle that so many borrowers experience. In fact, most borrowers have no family assets.

“This student debt seems insurmountable,” Keller said. “I’m a single mom just trying to survive, and the cost of living is going up.”

Thanks to her union, however, Keller can now earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education — for free.

Unfortunately, many do not have this possibility.

Shuler noted that millions of AFL-CIO union members work in jobs that require more than a high school diploma.

“That means workers pursue additional education, training and credentials that often fall on the individual. Often that means taking on more debt,” she noted.

Warren described the evolution of the student debt crisis.

Student loan debt of $1.7 trillion — the amount all borrowers in the United States owe — “didn’t come out of the blue,” the Massachusetts senator said. “It happened because of deliberate political decisions to invest in lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans and paying for it by cutting education for our children.”

Schumer said pursuing a college education was a ladder up to the middle class. But now the senator from New York has said: ‘Debt has become an anchor. Those doors of opportunity that were available a generation ago are not.

Pressley, who has championed student debt relief in the House of Representatives, recognized the bravery of those like Keller, who fight student debt and tell their stories.

“There’s no shame in wrestling,” Pressley said. “The shame is that we’re not doing everything in our power to ease the burden of this struggle.”

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