A bill providing grants to essential workers so they can attend public colleges and universities will benefit not only students but also public higher education in the state and the local economy, according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
The MTA has joined the other members of the Debt-Free Public Higher Education Coalition in voicing support for House Docket 5157, An Act Relative to Debt-Free Futures for Essential Workers. The coalition sent a letter to legislators asking them to support the bill, which was filed by Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster).
“This bill tackles three problems simultaneously. It addresses the problem of ballooning student debt and will provide greater access to public higher education, a crucial tool for building a more racially and economically just society. The bill will also boost enrollment at public colleges and universities, which are facing many challenges because of the pandemic. And it will stimulate the state economy as we educate workers ready to adapt to a changing world.”MTA President Merrie Najimy
The legislation provides state residents deemed essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis with a $10,000 grant that can be used to help them attend Massachusetts public colleges and universities or help relieve some of their existing student debt burden.
“This bill tackles three problems simultaneously,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy. “It addresses the problem of ballooning student debt and will provide greater access to public higher education, a crucial tool for building a more racially and economically just society. The bill will also boost enrollment at public colleges and universities, which are facing many challenges because of the pandemic. And it will stimulate the state economy as we educate workers ready to adapt to a changing world.”
The bill represents a societal recognition of those who have put themselves and their families at risk during the coronavirus crisis. There have been too many instances of essential workers subsequently being laid off or furloughed.
Steve Turcotte is part of the facilities department at UMass Lowell and a member of the Maintenance and Trades Union there, making sure dorms are clean and that COVID-19 prevention protocols are followed. Turcotte is also a student at UMass Lowell, pursuing a business degree.
Turcotte was first threatened with a layoff and later furloughed. He is an essential employee who was then told he is expendable.
“I keep telling students that what we learn in classes isn’t always practiced by the university administration,” he said.
MTA Vice President Max Page said that Turcotte and essential workers like him should not be thrust into economic uncertainty, especially as they seek greater employment opportunities.
“The pandemic is having a terrible effect on workers,” Page said. “This bill would make public higher education debt-free for essential workers, allowing them to gain the education they need and deserve, and ease debilitating student debt.”
Too many public colleges and universities are not responding to the pandemic in a way that will best support communities.
Layoffs at Springfield Technical Community College, Bristol Community College and UMass Lowell; inadequate plans across the UMass system for a safe return to campuses; and a lack of financial support for state universities all fly in the face of what two recent studies have found about student debt and investing in public higher education.
Support for H.D. 5157 aligns with the findings of COVID-19 Pandemic, Economic Recovery and the Need for Student Debt Cancellation in Massachusetts, by Anastasia C. Wilson, which outlines how detrimental student debt is to the economy, and An Economic Analysis of Investment in Public Higher Education in Massachusetts: Recovering from the COVID-19 Crisis and Laying Foundations for the Future, by Michael Ash and Shouvik Chakraborty, which shows that public education is one of the best investments the state can make in terms of jobs created and long-term gains.