Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley calls in to discuss what measures are being taken during this pandemic.
Ramiro [00:00:03] Alright, we gotta talk to Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Yes! Hello?
Congresswoman Pressley [00:00:13] Good morning.
Ramiro [00:00:14] Good morning. So before we start, I just wanna let you know that Pebbles is a hardcore Trump supporter so you can see what you talk about. Nah, just kidding, although I’m not kidding about this. Leroy, our producer, has a major crush on you.
Leroy [00:00:30] This is not the time. All done. Let’s not do this. Keep it moving. All right.
Ramiro [00:00:38] Ms. Pressley’s office reached out to us because she wanted to say something to our audience. She’s working hard behind the scenes on a lot of things, on a lot of things. So go ahead. Talk about it.
Congresswoman Pressley [00:00:50] Absolutely. We’re first and foremost, just I just appreciate what y’all are doing. You know, when I was sworn into Congress in January, I came back to Roxbury two weeks later for a ceremonial swearing in. And I had everyone take a pledge with me because this is not work that I do alone there are about 400 people there. And one of the tenants of that pledge, I won’t enumerate all of them, but one of them is that I will inform joy, because joy is also a necessary act of resistance. So I just want to thank you all for the role that you’re playing in the movement, not only in giving an opportunity to say hello to your listeners and just check in on folks. But it’s important that we keep keep our joy in the midst of all of this. So thank you for giving us the place where we can laugh and also get information.
Ramiro [00:01:36] We try, madam, we try!
Congresswoman Pressley [00:01:41] So you know what? I’ve certainly I’m no longer on the city council. So I’m a Member of Congress now. So I’ve been focused on the federal response. And, you know, we’ve been fighting hard against some very challenging dynamics. You know, I really try to stay out of my mentions and not to engage trolls, but I couldn’t help myself. Yesterday, someone had a recurring theme that I see that people will say we need more legislators and less activists in government and you need both. And if you don’t do that now in the face of the incompetence, the callousness, the cruelty and every ism being inflated under this administration, you don’t have any choice but to be an activist. I mean, look what our governors have been reduced to. They’re having to create Twitter videos begging for essential medical equipment. It’s as if the Occupant and I don’t call him the President ever. He does not embody the integrity, the intellect, the strategy, the empathy, the compassion. He’s simply occupying the space. He embodies nothing that a president should. And certainly not during these turbulent times. So, you know, we passed three packages out of the House, three relief packages. We’re advocating aggressively for a fourth one that will be focused on infrastructure and economic recovery. The one that we just passed is the CARES Act. And that was a bill that the Republicans put forward that was really just a bill to benefit corporations. And we did everything we could to make that by being activist then. And, you know, Speaker Pelosi is a very shrewd negotiator to make that bill work as much as it could for individuals, families and workers. But that bill still left a lot of people behind. And it has everything to do with the cruelty of this administration. It doesn’t take care of the undocumented. It does nothing for the uninsured. But there were some gains that I fought for that did get in there. So one is a temporary pause on student loan payments as well as stopping the involuntary garnishment of wages and benefits. So what does that mean? People like to frame the student loan issue as a millennial issue. Now we have a 1.6 trillion dollar student debt crisis in this country. We have 855,000 federal student loan borrowers just in Massachusetts. And black and brown students borrow more than anyone because we don’t have generational wealth. And that’s a conversation for another day. Why that is the case. And we also default more than anyone else. So I’m 46 years old and I have many peers still paying student loans and there are seniors citizens still paying. I have a senior citizen still paying student loans. And that’s why their Social Security checks get garnished when they default on a payment. So we’re trying to eliminate as many bills and provide as much debt relief as possible. So we were I did fight hard to get some compromise and that is that they would stop, they would pause student loan collection. For right now, those payments and they would stop involuntary garnishment, people’s wages for those that are still working and benefits. What I want to see in the next package is complete student debt cancelation. I try to get in that they would cancel a minimum of $10,000 of debt for every borrower on upwards of $30,000 because the average borrower has at least $30,000 worth of debt. We didn’t get them. But if we cancel student debt in the next package, that’s immediate economic recovery. That puts money in people’s pockets. They can use that money for something else and maybe jumpstart the economy. The other thing that I fought hard for was support for incarcerated men and women. It’s so important that when we talk about vulnerable populations that we are including our loved ones that are behind the wall, our prisons and our immigration detention facilities, our homeless shelters, these are all petri dishes that really support any pandemic or virus thriving we cannot socially or physically distance in a space that is overpopulated. And they also have unequal access to the things that you need to stay sanitary to protect yourself in the midst of this pandemic. And so we were able to get $100 million for our federal prisons and $850 million for states and cities. But what I think we need to be doing and I’ll continue to fight for it, I thank Suffolk County D.A. Rachel Rollins, for her leadership and her her clear voice in this is compassionate relief for those elderly incarcerated that have underlying conditions who, you know, certainly pose no threat to anyone. They should we should be prioritizing compassionate release of our senior citizens, 10% of our incarcerated, are elderly, and do have an underlying condition that would put them at a risk to this pandemic.
Congresswoman Pressley [00:06:52] But there are also so many people. The reason I’m trying to eliminate the cash bail system is do you know how many people are in jail who have been convicted of nothing and they’re just being there because they couldn’t afford bail or one guy was going to jail right now or they’re there because of a traffic violation. So, you know, when we talk about our prisons, our prisons and our jails, we need to be looking at ways to decarcerate right now so that we can make the population less dense, because that density is what supports the pandemic. The virus growing. And then we also this is something else that I thought whether we were able to get in the last package and that is $4 billion for those experiencing homelessness and is really quick on that front. I want to say, you know, there were folks that were being critical of progressives that were fighting for big systemic change in these bills and using this crisis as an opportunity to do that. And the reality is that this crisis has really highlighted and worsened every socio economic fault line. You know, this is we are being really exposed for people who have been in denial about the stratification in our society and whose lives we value. And so now you see in states like Ohio, they are taking motels and hotels that are now at zero occupancy because of the pandemic. And they are putting people experiencing homelessness into those motels and hotels. I mean, these are the sort of things we’ve been fighting for as progressives for a long time. This is just about the acknowledgement that, look, this virus doesn’t discriminate. And our response cannot discriminate. All means all.
Congresswoman Pressley [00:08:32] And that’s you know, so we were able to get $4 billion for those experiencing homelessness, supports for our shelters and things like that. One of the other things I’ve been pushing for you, seeing some disturbing reports already on this is Senator Warren. It’s Senator Warren, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Kamala Harris and I, we all partners and we wrote a letter to Health and Human Services demanding that they begin collecting racial data in real time. Who is showing up? We already collect age and gender. So we think that we should be collecting racial data in real time. Latin, African-American, native and indigenous folks AAPI so that we can make sure that the response is equitable because in the past we know that there has been unequal access to health care, which is why we also have the higher prevalence of health disparities: diabetes, asthma, heart disease.
Congresswoman Pressley [00:09:29] By the way, these are all the things that make us. These are underlying conditions. We all grew up saying someone in the family has sugar. That’s an underlying condition. I don’t even think our folks realize that because we conflate our poor public health outcomes with just an inevitable reality of being black and brown. But all of this leaves you vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. And then if you do contract it, we suffer the most severe consequences. So we need that racial data to make sure that the embedded racism that we know exists within our embedded bias, within our health care system that exists. That it is not showing up because when H-1-N-1 hit black folks had the highest mortality rates, Michigan put out Michigan put out numbers yesterday. Black folks are 14.1% of the population in Michigan. I know we all define Michigan as Detroit, but Michigan black folks, 14.1% of the population I believe there and they represent 35% of the COVID-19 cases and 40% of the fatalities.
Ramiro [00:10:44] So when you’re asking for all these things, what is the other side? What? Why are they fighting? Is it just because you’re asking for money and they don’t want to spend money on things?
Congresswoman Pressley [00:10:53] I mean, listen. I mean, so we were able to get this cash in direct cash. Right. And depending on income, you’ll get either $1200 or $2500. I can come back some other time and explain that further. Those checks will come sometime in the next three weeks. But there’s been some projections that it could be 20. Okay? These are the types of things that we’re fighting for. That one-time cash infusion, it might stem some of the hurt if it comes immediately, but it’s not enough people. We should be offering this every month. And we need a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and rents and mortgage and utility payments. I mean, do y’all know there are places where people are having their lights turned off in the midst of this pandemic. We need to address all of those things. And, you know, look, there are some numbers that say if we hadn’t bailed out corporations, that we might have been able to give each person $13,000 instead of a one time cash infusion of $1200 – $2500. So what’s their response? You know, they think we’re socialists. You know, I don’t. I don’t know that they think this is. We are trying to. We’re being opportunistic and we are trying to exploit a crisis to advance our own agenda.
Ramiro [00:12:17] Right.
Congresswoman Pressley [00:12:17] I mean, they’re not they’re just cruel. I don’t know what else to do. They don’t they don’t cater about every single person. That’s the only thing that I can really hear.
Ramiro [00:12:28] We’re talking to Rep. Ayanna Pressley because I look at it like I’m not a politician. I just look at some things like almost like common sense. And I’m like there’s just some things that you should stop making people pay for. If they don’t, they’re not bringing in any money, because now if they can’t pay for stuff now, they’re gonna get evicted from their house. And that just means more people out in the street. And that’s just not going to help with this whole social and physical distancing thing. Yeah, they can’t eat. It’s just maybe it’s just creating more of a problem.
Congresswoman Pressley [00:12:55] Yeah. I mean, look, when I was elected to Congress, not only am I fortunate to be part of a history making class, unprecedented in diversity, representation, and number of women. But we have had some unenviable things that have happened historically when I joined Congress. We were the first freshman class to join in the midst of a federal government shutdown. And there were workers that lost one or two checks. And my colleagues did not believe that those one or two checks was forcing people to go to a food pantry. And many of them were on the precipice of eviction. They didn’t believe it. I mean, most people can’t say one job isn’t even enough anymore. People are working one and two and three jobs, our most vulnerable workers. Like, one of the things right now I’m fighting for is like custodians, they should be considered frontline health care workforce. If we’re going to make investments to protect our heroes, our doctors, our nurses and all those that are patient facing, you know, our custodians. As far as I’m concerned, there are heroes, too, because they are disinfecting and sanitizing and cleaning, you know, all of these spaces. But again, this crisis just really highlights how we’ve been upside down instead of this social hierarchy of what work we value, what work is dignified. And so what’s happened now? Essential workforce are people working in grocery stores. You know, our custodians are, you know, workers that many have rendered invisible. So I just I just think that we don’t have enough people who bring that lived experience who are connected closely to the ground. So the people to understand if how many people for so long have already been living on the margins that are a health crisis away, a layoff away, you know, one disruptive life event away from disaster. And that’s been true for a long time. And so the people that have already been hurting, that hurt is only being exacerbated in this moment and others say about the Trump Administration. You know, to their reckless policy and policymaking their negligent. They’ve been slowly killing a lot of folks for a long time. And I just think that now they’re doing it more bluntly. And this administration has blood on their hands. That’s it.
Ramiro [00:15:20] All right. Well, thank you for coming on with us. Ayanna Presley, Congresswoman Ayanna Presley. Pebbles highlight of the week was when you started following her on Twitter.
Pebbles [00:15:27] That was very exciting.
Ramiro [00:15:30] And Leroy, is there anything before we say goodbye to Ms. Presley that you’d like to say?
Leroy [00:15:34] No, just much respect. Don’t. Don’t do this!
Congresswoman Pressley [00:15:37] Leroy! Honesly, that touches my heart. You know, not everybody can appreciate a baldie.
Ramiro [00:15:47] Listen,if you do online gaming, Leroy why don’t you give her your gamertag.
Leroy [00:15:50] No, Stop it! You’ve all got me looking crazy right now!
Ramiro [00:15:55] He’s a Tetris master.
Congresswoman Pressley [00:15:58] I appreciate you all so much. And I followed all y’all on social, so you DM me anytime and I hope you’ll have me back. Just thanks for what you’re doing for the people.