The sign tells voters the basics. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: U.S. Congressional Candidates for 3rd Middlesex District Make their Positions Known

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WestfordCAT has asked the 11 U.S. Congressional candidates for the Third Middlesex District to respond to questions about pressing societal issues. The answers from the eight who responded are below [Beej Das, Alexandra Chandler and Leonard Golder did not respond by the deadline].

This week’s question: According to the Institute for College Access & Success, “68 percent of 2015 bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with student loan debt. The average was $30,100 per borrower.” This level of debt has the potential to choke today’s young adults who may never be able to dig out enough to own a home and raise a family. Do you have a plan for solving this financial crisis that some say is a bubble that will eventually burst?

Jeff Ballinger
Andover Democrat
What I find most abhorrent about the issue of student debt is the disparate impact on youths of color, and we find that, in the midst of this crisis, Mick Mulvaney’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has downgradedthe “Office of Students” which recovered more than $750 million in funds for defrauded students.

“Racial disparities in debt are large and more than double across the course of a young adulthood,” according to a new report* – exacerbated by the 2008 recession. Republican suppression of workers’ right to organize also makes repayment more challenging.

Free college under the GI Bill reaped a 6-fold return-on-investment, another study showed.

We must do three things to raise revenue: 1) Institute a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Tax) system of 8 percent for for private, non-profit institutions; 2) fully fund the Internal Revenue Service ($.45 spent yields $100 revenue) – IRS staff has been cut for the last eight years and, 3) financial transaction tax, estimated to yield $160- $310 billion per year. Buy all student debt and institute zero-interest repayment plan.


Rufus Gifford
Concord Democrat
Student loan debt is absolutely a plague on our young people and our society. It is one of the top issues that is raised with me in all communities across the third district. These young people are simply trying to make their lives better, by getting an education, and yet they are straddled with insurmountable debt. Government needs to do a better job helping them. How can we expect young people to buy homes, start families, create businesses if they are struggling with hundreds of thousands of debt? It’s unacceptable, and the government must provide relief.

In the short term, we should pass legislation that allows people to refinance their student loans. I support Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act,” which would allow those with outstanding debt to refinance at interest rates offered to new borrowers. There is no reason why students shouldn’t be able to refinance their loans in the same way one can do on a mortgage.

In the long term, I think we need to think big. I think it’s time for a 21st Century G.I. bill. I think you should be able to either attend college tuition or debt-free if you commit to some type of service to your community, whether that’s government work, nonprofit, or other. Currently, there are a number of public service loan forgiveness programs, which should also be expanded significantly


Rick Green
Pepperell Republican

The student debt crisis is eerily reminiscent of the subprime mortgage bubble crisis that was responsible for the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. This is in large part a problem that Washington created. Washington needs to get out of the business of underwriting debt. As Congressman for the 3rd district, I will focus on empowering students with practical and affordable education options. Setting our children up for success should be Congress’s only metric for evaluating educational outcomes.

Here are responses from more candidates.

Dan Koh
Andover Democrat

Our current student loan system just isn’t working. Students are graduating with crippling amounts of student debt, holding them back from achieving their full potential. We have to take action on this now.

We can start tackling this issue by allowing students to refinance loans at today’s lower rates. The federal government shouldn’t be making money off our students. Additionally, I support enforcing strict regulations to ensure that students at fraudulent for-profit colleges don’t get left with sham degrees and mountains of debt. We also need to protect programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which is currently under attack by Republicans in Congress.

In addition to reducing existing student debt, we need to make college affordable in the first place. I strongly believe we need free community college, as well as increased funding for programs such as Pell Grants, so our students can spend their time learning and not worrying about years of debt. I care a lot about this issue, and you can read my full plan to reduce student debt at Koh2018.com/education.” 

Barbara L’Italien
Andover Democrat
It took me six years to graduate Merrimack College because I was working full-time to pay my way through. Now I’m on the other side, a mother of four kids in or out of college. I know how tough things are. Post-secondary education is coming closer and closer to what a high school degree used to be on the job market, and that’s a huge problem – because higher education is wildly expensive and getting worse.

For too many kids from low- or middle-income families, higher education is being priced out of reach all together. For those who move forward with their college plans, student debt often means graduates can’t afford cars or houses. It’s a contributor to growing economic inequality, and it’s an incredible burden on students trying to start their adult lives and parents delaying retirement to support their children.

We need action, and we need it now. I’ve supported increasing investment in public higher ed in the legislature to keep costs down for students and their families. In Congress, I’ll fight to make sure everyone in America has access to great public colleges and universities – working to make them affordable and eventually tuition-free. That starts with guaranteeing one year of free college, which encourages students to stay enrolled and eventually graduate – an initiative I’ve worked on here in Massachusetts with former Sen. Eileen Donoghue.

While we push towards that goal, there are a number of reforms we can make. I’ll support legislative efforts to cap the monthly payment on student loans so that people like my daughters who want to go into teaching or other public service careers can do it without worrying about debt, allow students to refinance their loans and dissolve student loans in bankruptcy, and ensure that federally-insured loans for higher education are no-interest. It’s criminal that our government is making money off of students who are trying to get an education.

We also need to strengthen protections against predatory student loan providers by passing a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights and get tough on for-profit colleges and universities – efforts I was proud to work on for students here in our Commonwealth alongside Attorney General Maura Healey as the legislature’s Consumer Protection Committee co-chair. Under Trump, we’ve walked away from holding for-profit higher education institutions liable for reimbursing students and their families for loans. I’ve been working to counter this in Massachusetts, and I’ll continue that work in Congress.

Bopha Malone
Bedford Democrat

A strong education is key to overcoming poverty and strengthening our economy and businesses. If it weren’t for the great education that I received from Lesley University with much-needed financial aid, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my American dream. Every young adult who desires an opportunity to have a higher education should not be deterred from having it due to rising tuition.

As a trustee of Middlesex Community College (MCC) and Lesley University, and being involved with the Student Experience Committees at both colleges, I hear firsthand from students about the various obstacles they have to endure to achieve an affordable quality education. Ninety percent of MCC students work while attending college. When they are there, they are hungry. In addition to all of that, those who are from immigrant families are afraid for their future because of the shameful policies that the Trump Administration has imposed. This is unjust.

I have been working to help make college accessible and affordable for all. When in Congress, I will continue to be a strong advocate for education. For the 40 million Americans who are enslaved by their $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans, I would start by supporting Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill by allowing them to refinance at current, lower rates. I would also allow struggling borrowers to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. To aim for a debt-free future, I would increase federal and state funding for current and future students with financial aid needs, protect students from predatory lending practices, enforce financial transparency on colleges during the acceptance process and develop financial tools so that colleges can keep their doors open to students.

I believe that investing in our young adults is smart for our future. I’m a good example of that, and I would pursue policies to ensure that community colleges are tuition-free and go beyond that by making state colleges tuition-free as well.

Here are responses from more candidates.

Juana Matias
Haverhill Democrat

We have a student debt crisis in the United States, with more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. Student debt is delaying home ownership, putting financial strain on multiple generations, and limiting the ability of recent graduates to start businesses. We must expand public service loan forgiveness programs to make student debt more manageable for existing borrowers and close loopholes that have jeopardized teachers’, firefighters’, and public servants’ access to the loan forgiveness programs they have earned.

We also need to expand incentives and forgiveness options for educators and veterans, and work with higher education institutions to expand both merit-based and need-based grants that empower students to start their careers with limited debt. I know firsthand how much of a burden student loan debt can be, and in Congress I’ll be a tireless advocate for true education finance reform.

Lori Trahan
Westford Democrat

There is an arms war on amenities at colleges and universities and the cost of these luxuries are being passed on to students in the form of exorbitant tuition prices. It’s time to hold these schools accountable and we can start by publishing each school’s student loan default rate. A high rate of default is a good indicator that students are not being well prepared for the job market.

We need to incentivize these schools to focus as heavily on job readiness as they do on admissions. Those above the national default rate should be held accountable by making them restructure the debt.This would force schools to reexamine their tuition rates and shift focus to preparing students for life after college. I will also work to expand Pell grants and increase the amount provided under the American Opportunity Tax Credit. I also support legislation which would cap interest rates on federal loans and establish the “10/10 Loan Repayment Plan” which reduces payment amounts to 10 percent of the original loan principal.