Polk State students participated in a Youth COVID-19 Relief Town Hall hosted by Future Forum on February 19 at the College’s Center for Public Safety, where they heard from members of Congress about their efforts to bring relief and increased benefits to young people, as well as solutions to issues such as student loan debt.
Future Forum, an organization of Democratic members of Congress under the age of 50 focused on issues and opportunities for millennial American, hosted the town hall virtually with a small group of Polk State students joining in person with U.S. Congressman Darren Soto and Roosevelt Holmes III, who served as the Southern Region Coalitions Director for the Biden-Harris campaign.
“We know that it is critical to hear from young people across America. You all are the current and future leaders of our nation, and so many of us are facing hardship right now with the pandemic and the recession.”
“We know that it is critical to hear from young people across America. You all are the current and future leaders of our nation, and so many of us are facing hardship right now with the pandemic and the recession,” Soto said. “Help is on the way to help our students get through.”
Soto and his colleagues went over the American Rescue Plan, which would bring an additional $35 billion in support to higher education institutions across the country, including approximately $14 million for Polk State. He added that the possibility of $10,000 in student loan forgiveness is being debated.
Students also heard from U.S. Congressman Jimmy Gomez about the transformational impact college had on his life, which reinforced why Future Forum is committed to advocating for the needs of students and higher education institutions.
“Trying to figure out how to provide new opportunities for the next generation is crucial. I’m a first-generation college student in my family, I’m the youngest of six to immigrant parents, and when I graduated from high school, I had no plans to go to college,” Gomez shared. “It wasn’t until a friend saw me struggling to make ends meet, living in my parents’ garage, that he helped sign me up for one class at the community college, and it changed my life.”
He noted the affordability of community and state colleges, and the ability for students to achieve their education with minimal to zero student loan debt thanks to the opportunities provided by these higher education institutions. Polk State’s tuition, for example, is approximately one-third the cost of that at state universities. He added that legislators will continue to advocate for those already struggling with student loan debt.
“We’re going to push to increase Pell grants and eliminate debt for students, and we will keep these issues in the forefront,” Gomez said.
U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell, the founder of Future Forum, echoed this sentiment.
“Long term, we really want to bring down the cost of education. Having people [in Congress] who are connected to [student loan debt and having to pay for our education], that is going to give us a voice as we fight for relief post-pandemic,” Swalwell said.
Students engaged in a question-and-answer session with the representatives, in which they inquired about the COVID-19 vaccine, the prevention of future pandemics, additional legislation to support health and education, as well as advice on finding internships.
Nehemiah Charles, a first-generation-in-college student who aspires to study geomatics, took the opportunity to ask Holmes, who served the Biden-Harris campaign, about gaining real-world experience as a college student.
“Figure out what your passion is – what that one thing is that you could wake up and do for the rest of your life for free,” shared Holmes, an alumnus of Valencia College and the University of Central Florida. “Get involved – volunteer if you have to. Don’t be afraid to volunteer your time and services. Those volunteer opportunities have led me to where I am today.”
“Internships are closer than you think,” Soto added. “We’re always looking for smart young people to help out.”