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Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
On Saturday, one of Ocasio-Cortez's Instagram followers asked her, "How does cancelling student debt help us who paid their loans?" The New York representative, 32, respectfully took issue with the question and offered a lengthy response explaining why.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: Not every program has to be for everybody," Ocasio-Cortez replied, mentioning other programs that use taxpayer dollars to benefit specific populations — like first-time homeowner benefits, Medicare for senior citizens, and roads that even public transit users help fund through taxes.
"Maybe student loan forgiveness doesn't impact you. That doesn't make it bad," she continued. "I am sure there are certainly other things that student loan borrowers' taxes pay for. We can do good things and reject the scarcity mindset that says doing something good for someone else comes at the cost of something for ourselves."
To further contextualize why people who were "blessed enough" to have already paid off their debts should support student loan relief, Ocasio-Cortez compared the issue to climate change.
"The challenges we as a society and world are facing are so enormous and so stark that they have the capacity to overwhelm any individual wealth or power. For example: The rich will not be able to run from climate change no matter how many may want to believe they can buy their personal way out of it," she wrote.
"In light of the ecological, economic, and social challenges we face, our society's ability to triumph and prevail actually depends on our capacity for SELFLESSNESS over SELFISHNESS," she continued. "That's why if you're upset now about student loan forgiveness, you are not ready for climate change."
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Suggesting that all people will one day come face-to-face with climate disasters as devastating floods, wildfires and other crises become commonplace, the congresswoman said that Americans need to practice lifting each other up now, because in the blink of an eye anyone can be placed in a position that requires the community's support.
"When crisis finds us (and it always does) it requires us to rely on others," she said, "and that will be difficult to nonexistent if you spent your life fighting against our capacity to help one another in many other different ways even if we don't immediately benefit in the short run."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a longtime proponent of canceling student debt to help borrowers get back on their feet, offered another perspective to PEOPLE last week about why it's okay that student debt relief only targets specific populations.
"Higher ed is becoming a way to further divide people economically instead of bring them together. If somebody can afford to write a check to go to college, if they come from a family that can pay for it, they've got a pretty smooth sailing path ahead for their place in America's middle class," Warren said. "For anyone whose family can't afford to write a check to send them to college, the path forward is through debt hell."
To critics, student loan forgiveness is described as an unfair use of taxpayer dollars that "punishes" those who already paid off debt, or didn't take out loans at all. But proponents of canceling debt never aimed for equality — the goal has always been equity.