Thank you so much. It is such a pleasure to be here. I just want to say good afternoon, everybody. As you heard, I am U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, and I am so pleased to be here with each and every one of you. Thanks for your engagement. Thanks for your energy. I am going to need each and every one of you.
Everything that I do in Washington is for you, is for your educational opportunities, for your future, and for our future as a nation. It is truly exciting to think of the opportunities that you have ahead of you. I know that you are going to make all of our communities in all of North Carolina great. You are going to make our leaders proud, and one day I hope it is you standing behind this podium. That is what we need. I want to take just a minute to tell you about the work that I am doing in Washington and how high the stakes are in this election.
As a mom of three young adults, I know how important and how expensive a good education can be. Last summer as interest rates on student loans were slated to increase from 3.4% to 6.8%, I hosted a round table in Charlotte on college affordability. One of the participants was Central Piedmont Community College student, Nathan Lane. His story really sticks with me. Let me tell you about Nathan's story.
He already had a lot on his mind. He was working three part time jobs while he was going to school, and he was about to graduate from CPCC and then start classes at UNC-Charlotte. Like many students, he was using federal loans to pay for his education, but he worried that after getting his degree he would be faced with an interest rate that he couldn't afford. For Nathan, if the interest rates had, in fact, doubled it meant an extra $2600 that would have been added to his student loans.
I couldn't sit idly by in the Senate and allow these interest rates to double, so I supported the bipartisan bill to keep these rates low and ensure that we try as hard as possible not to saddle our young people, just like you, with unsustainable debt four and five and ten years down the road. I am committed to keeping the dream of attending college within the reach of every North Carolina student who wants to pursue it. That means looking at ways to make college more affordable.
Protecting North Carolina's historically black colleges and universities is also one of my top priorities. HBCUs play a crucial role in educating students and preparing them to enter the workforce. I am proud to have supported millions of dollars in funding to benefit 10 of the HBCUs in North Carolina.
As many of you are going to be reaching the end of your college education, looking for a job, and then many of those here are already working, there is nothing more important than being ready for today's competitive job market. I am sure that more than a few of you gathered here today are already thinking about what is next after graduation. I believe that improving the skills gap, which we still see all over the workforce in North Carolina and around the country, we have got to improve that. I have a bipartisan bill called the America Works Act that partners with community colleges and industry to close the gap by creating industry-recognized portable credentials in a range of areas from aerospace and aviation to textiles.
We also have to look at ways to jump start our economic growth like expanding lending to small business owners. I hear all the time how difficult and hard it is for new starting businesses to get access to capital. I'm sure there are many of you in this room today who have a great idea for a business and we've got to support and we've got to harness that energy so that it means jobs for North Carolina.
You may have seen this week the Supreme Court heard the Hobby Lobby case where employers are trying to deny their employees the right to receive insurance coverage for birth control. We know that any preventive care, including birth control, is basic health care for women. This is a conversation between a woman and her doctor not a woman and her boss and not a woman and her senator. Let me tell you, my election is going to be a contrast. My opponents have all said that they believe that states have the authority to ban birth control. They even favor a personhood constitutional amendment which could make some forms of birth control illegal. One of my opponents, Thom Tillis, led a midnight vote to defund Planned Parenthood in North Carolina which he was successful in doing.
That is not going to be the only contrast this election year. While I am focused on common sense issues and putting North Carolina first, reinstating unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage, making our state a more equal home for our LGBT citizens, access to healthcare, and college affordability, all of those things, I am heavily engaged in. My opponents are now competing to see who has the most fringe, anti-middle class agenda for North Carolina.
Unlike Thom Tillis, who led the passage of the voter suppression bill, I am 100% committed to protecting everyone's right to vote including our great college students whose voice matters just as much as everyone else. As we saw in Raleigh last year, laws that restrict access to voting are unacceptable. They undermine the very foundation of our democracy. The North Carolina law even states that your state university IDs are not an acceptable form of identification. Yet, they are issued by the state of North Carolina. I urge the justice department to investigate the North Carolina voting law, and I am pleased that Attorney General Eric Holder and others have decided to take action on that issue.
This year, protecting and standing up for the basic right to vote could not be more important since outside interest groups have now spent over $10 million to distort my record and prop up my opponent as they have been trying to buy this US Senate seat. They know they can get someone like Thom Tillis to pass through an agenda just like it's been done in Raleigh. They know that I will never carry their water, but they seem to be missing one thing. They don't know that North Carolina is not for sale.
North Carolinians are not going to be fooled by these outsiders. I will need your help. I'm going to need your enthusiasm this year as we stand up for our shared values as well as our state's future. Knocking on doors and making phone calls, bringing students from across the state together is necessary and critical for a win this November. Right now you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, go to Kayhagan.com. Please sign up to get involved. When I launch Students for Kay, I hope to have all of your right there with me.
In North Carolina, we have a state toast, the land of the long leaf pine. In that state toast, we state "where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great." These are important words to consider as we think about the contrast that this election and how our involvement can make the difference in keeping our state a place to grow strong and great.
Thanks so much for every one of you being here today. Thank you for your leadership, for your determination to live up to those ideals.