Del. Price represents the 95th legislative district in the Virginia House of Delegates, covering parts of the cities of Newport News and Hampton. SiX spoke to her about her work helping Virginians address student loan debt.
Why is combatting the student debt crisis an important issue to you?
Everyone brings their life experiences with them to their work as a legislator and tries to mesh that with the experiences of people in their district. For me personally, when I was elected to the legislature, I was carrying about $90,000 in student loan debt from undergrad and two graduate programs. I spent a lot of time thinking I had done something wrong, but I also heard about other people going through the same thing. It became clear that getting this right wasn’t just the personal responsibility of the borrower, it was a systematic problem. When I got to the legislature in 2016, I knew that my district had a large percentage of defaults on loans. I realized that I could tell my personal story, and even if a bill couldn’t help me it could help other people from being in situations like mine.
How will your bill, HB1138, passed in 2018, help Virginians?
It creates an Office of the Qualified Education Loan Ombudsman within the State Council of Higher Education, where Virginia borrowers can go for unbiased information. A lot of people have pieced together different types of loans to cover their full need, so instead of having to go to multiple servicers to get answers to their questions, they can now go to one place and get answers on all types of loans. They can also get answers on repayment options from someone who won’t be making money off their decision, but from someone who can aid them in making choices that are economical. The Ombudsman office can also walk Virginians through the process of filing a complaint if things aren’t going well with a loan servicer, which can be really intimidating when you’re up against such a big industry. And finally, the office will create an easily accessible online educational course for borrowers and potential borrowers.
What are the next steps the legislature can do to address student loan debt?
There are three other bills we’ll keep pressing for that will be helpful on the front end, as people are considering taking out loans. First, I think it’s time that Virginia be creative and move forward with a student loan refinancing authority for people with high interest loans, so they can refinance with lower interest rates. Some private loans come with interest rates that really look more like department store credit card rates, more so than an interest rate for a loan for an education that you were told you had to have in order to be successful. Two other bills would create a borrower’s bill of rights and making sure loan servicer companies have to be licensed by the state. In Virginia, student loan debt is second only to mortgage debt, and mortgages are highly regulated. Student loans are also often targeting people who are much younger than home buyers, raising the possibility that they could be taken advantage of.
What else should people know about the student debt issue?
I do want to clarify that when it comes to my own student loan situation, I know I could have done a better job reading my own student loan documents. But I also know that some of us never learned even how to balance a checkbook. We’ve taken some things out of our education curriculum, like financial literacy, that would help students be financially savvy and budget savvy and make an informed decision before they sign their life away. That’s my little plug against over-emphasizing standardized tests and putting some life skills back into curriculum that have real-life applications.
What other issues are you passionate about?
In the area where I’m from, everyday gun violence is the reality, and I’m really passionate about a four-pronged approach to prevent and eradicate youth and gang violence in my district: Prevention, intervention, enforcement, and re-entry. On my first day as a delegate in 2016 we had three murders in Newport News. By the time we got to the weekend for my ceremonial swearing-in, we were at five murders. Too many of the victims were under the age of 30. We’ve got to break the cycle of violence, break the prison -industrial complex, and end mass incarceration. I’m passionate about criminal justice reform, but most specifically, trying to get this next generation to have a sense of hope, a sense of purpose, and a pipeline toward success.
The Virginia legislature is part-time, and only in session for a few months out of the year. How do you spend your time outside the legislature?
I’m the director of a non-profit called Virginia BLOC, the Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative. It is a project of New Virginia Majority, and we are focused on building empowered communities in Newport News and Hampton and building African American political power. We help communities create the changes they hope to see. It’s pretty much what I do as a delegate, but I get to do it outside of the legislature.
What first motivated you to run for office?
I’m a fourth-generation resident of Newport News, and was born into a political family and I had been part of campaigns since I was three, literally.I had always been on the campaign side, but in 2014 my predecessor in the legislature unofficially announced her retirement at a cookout. I went to a community meeting to volunteer myself as campaign manager for whoever the nominee would end up being, but it turned out that everyone at that meeting was there to tell me why I should run. It was very humbling. I was 34 at the time. I started coming up with all the reasons why I couldn’t do it, and people were pointing out why I should, like being a young, energetic voice for an area that needs a strong advocate. The positives outweighed my concerns, so I declared my candidacy.
What is a fun fact about you readers may not know?
I went to Divinity School at Howard University and was on track to become a minister that would pastor a church. But, during my certification process I was working in a hospital in a chaplaincy program where they assigned me to pediatrics, labor and delivery, and the emergency department. I learned really quickly that dealing with the end of life, when the end of life was in such negative circumstances, I didn’t want to be there for that part. I wanted to be somewhere where my ministry could help prevent the negative circumstances, and I really do see my work in the community as a legislator and at a non-profit as a form of ministry.