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Andy Pond, our President and CEO, testified at the State House on Beacon Hill in favor of a bill, put forward by the Providers Council that would provide student loan assistance to our workforce.
Here is his testimony:
Testimony of Andy Pond
President and CEO of Justice Resource Institute
To the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities
Senator Chang-Diaz and Representative Khan, Co-Chairs
May 28th, 2019
JRI is a large nonprofit organization, operating a diverse set of over 100 programs including 766 special education schools, in-home therapeutic supports and counseling for families, and services for people who are developmentally disabled. We also support victims of trafficking, and have specialty supports for homeless high school students, victims of gun violence in Boston, and supports for a wide range of LGBTQ individuals. We operate these trauma-informed services throughout the Commonwealth. Our mission is social justice—and we work closely with the Commonwealth as a partner to support and advance opportunity for its citizens. We employ 3000 staff.
The work they do ripples throughout our communities—helping victims of violent crime heal, helping people with disabilities find work. But even if they find a way to live on the low salaries that are part of our rates, our employees are often buried in student debt.
They often carry the same kind of debt as lawyer or doctor, without the equivalent capacity to earn enough to repay their loans. Or they are forced to put off home ownership, to drive broken-down vehicles, or (as I have heard) put off starting families. We all make individual decisions about where we will devote our resources of course, but for the human services field, these decisions are stark. It is unfair. We should do something about it.
At JRI, we have a relatively generous tuition reimbursement plan. That helps some, but it doesn’t help the many staff who go to school before they come to work for us. Since we have heard (as you have) that student debt is a major issue for people in the caring professions, we even have offered one-time loan grants—based on need, level of debt, focused on entry level. In each the past two years we have had many staff apply. We are only able to help a fraction of those in need.
What is needed is a comprehensive approach, that recognizes the value of this work to the Commonwealth. We should also be clear: Most of the people caught in this web of debt are women and people of color. This is because of the inherent discrepancy in pay for social services workers—the “caring professions” which traditionally were seen as “women’s work”. As a society we value the work of counselors, teachers, and clinicians—but we think that it is not worth paying people accordingly. The crushing debt our staff experience is disproportionate.
It is also a fact that debt has a greater impact on people of color—institutional and historical racism has left black families without the accumulated wealth that can help support a student. Any action on loan repayment will help right this wrong.
The legislature is in a position to help. On behalf of my staff, I ask that you help them continue to do the work they love. Every dollar we spend on our staff benefits the many individuals we serve. We all benefit from their commitment.