Ms. HIRONO. Mr. Speaker, ``Don't double my rate.''
I've heard this message loud and clear from college students in Hawaii and across the country. If Congress does not act, almost 17,000 student loan borrowers in Hawaii will see their interest rates double on July 1. Hawaii college students will owe nearly $1,000 more next year.
I have heard countless stories of people in Hawaii burdened by student loan debt. One woman in Kailua told me she took out student loans to afford graduate school, and now teaches part time at Hawaii Pacific University. Her husband is a Marine who's currently deployed. She says, ``My education was important to me, but now I wonder if it was truly worth it. I have the education that has provided me the job of my dreams but we are drowning in so much student loan debt that I may have single-handedly ruined both of our futures.''
Hawaii students shouldn't have to drown in debt to achieve their dreams. Education is too important: it's the key to greater opportunity.
I know firsthand how education opens the door to a better life. I came to this country from Japan when I was nearly 8 years old. My mother courageously plotted and planned in secret in order to flee an abusive marriage and bring us to this country so we could have a better life. We came to Hawaii in steerage with little more than the clothes on our backs. I did not speak a word of English but my mother enrolled me in the public schools and that's where I learned to read, write and speak English. I used financial aid and student loans to put myself through college and law school.
A recent study found that by 2018, nearly two-thirds of jobs in Hawaii will require some type of post-secondary education or career training. Meanwhile, tuition is rising and student loan debt is a serious problem. The average Hawaii college graduate has over $15,000 in student loan debt. Nationwide, Americans now owe more in student loan debt than credit card debt.
In my first year in Congress, I cosponsored the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. This bill passed on a strong bipartisan basis and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This law cut low- and middle-income student loan interest rates in half, from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. This provision will expire on July 1. We need a solution right away.
Yet, rather than seek a real, bipartisan solution like we did in 2007, the House Majority continues to play politics with the issues that matter most to our families.
Their latest ploy is H.R. 4628. This bill is a sheep in wolfs clothing. It supports college students, but on the backs of women and children. The bill would pay for keeping the lower interest rate for one year by repealing the Public Health and Prevention Fund. It's yet another partisan attack on the Affordable Care Act.
The Public Health and Prevention Fund has already had a major impact in Hawaii. Our state has received grants to provide vaccinations, HIV testing, obesity and smoking prevention, and warning systems for disease outbreaks.
The Public Health and Prevention Fund is supported by American Academy of Pediatrics--Hawaii Chapter, American Lung Association in Hawaii, CHOW Project, Faith Action for Community Equity, Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation, Hawai'i Primary Care Association, Hawaii Public Health Association, Malama Pono Health Services, and Papa Ola Lokahi. National organizations supporting this fund include the AARP, Alzheimer's Foundation, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Nurses Association, March of Dimes, and hundreds more.
Today's vote is a false choice. Let's stop playing games with our students' future, and let's not balance the budget on the backs of women's and children's health. Today's vote is just a skirmish. The game is not over. We need a real solution right away.
That's why I'm a cosponsor of the Stop the Rate Hike Act, H.R. 4816. This bill would keep student loan interest rates low for another year, long enough to find a longer-term solution. We'd pay for this by ending tax loopholes for big oil companies. These companies are already raking in record profits, and don't need another year of handouts from you and me.
I voted today to take up H.R. 4816, a real solution for our students. I urge my colleagues to come together and get this done.