Congress may have a deal on extending the discounted interest rate on federal student loans, but there are a million people who want them to go further.
Robert Applebaum, a former assistant district attorney from New York, delivered 1 million signatures Thursday from his petition for Congress to pass H.R. 4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, at the House side of the Capitol. He was joined by the bill's author, Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.), Tony Mitchell, Jr., Congressional Liaison of the National Black Law Students Association, and Getachew Kassa, who is Legislative Director for the U.S. Student Association. About 20 students and college graduates and Occupy Colleges activists also joined the group.
Their argument: forgiving student debt would fix the economy.
"Forgiving student loan debt would have an immediate stimulating effect on the economy," Applebaum argued. "Responsible people who did nothing other than pursue a higher education would have hundreds, if not thousands of extra dollars per month to spend, fueling the economy now."
H.R. 4170 would use a 10-10 standard; If a student has made payments equal to 10 percent of his discretionary income for 10 years, remaining federal student loan debt is forgiven. It also would've made the 3.4 percent reduced interest rate on subsidized federal student loans permanent. The deal Congress reached this week only lasts one year, and as such, Clarke criticized it as a "band aid."
The petition to support it is being hosted online through a website run by MoveOn.org. The petition initially had smaller targets near 250,000, but ended up surpassing 1 million signatures earlier in June.
"More and more of us are struggling with debt we cannot pay within a reasonable amount of time," Kassa said. "This has caused us to postpone continuing our education beyond a bachelor’s degree, buying a house and even getting married."
The Washington Monthly reports Kassa graduated from the University of Oregon in 2010 with a bachelor's in political science and $30,000 in debt from student loans.
"Student loan debt is costing this country jobs and robbing many young college graduates of their future," Clarke said in a statement. "H.R. 4170 will give student loan borrowers an opportunity to pursue their dreams such as starting a business, working in public service, or buying a home."
Clarke may be right considering the multiple surveys showing millennials increasingly avoiding the housing market and choosing to rent or move in with their parents.
Although Applebaum's petition specifically supports H.R. 4170, he originally began pushing the idea of forgiving student loan debt in Jan. 2009 as an alternative to the stimulus Congress passed shortly after President Obama took office.
Yet considering the struggle it was for Congress to reach a deal just on a lower interest rate, it doesn't leave a lot of hope H.R. 4170 will gain any traction whatsoever within the two chambers in the near future.
Not to mention that the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012 only deals with federal student loans. The Obama administration already offers income based repayment, meaning someone who took out loans each year and is only making, say $22,000 in their first job would only be required to make monthly payments that are less than $100 or so. And since the federal government limits how much students can borrow from them to go to college, the students who end up with upwards of $60,000 or even $100,000 in debt are making payments to banks who charged them 13 percent interest rates.
Meanwhile the extension on the discounted federal student loan rates would include a concession to Republicans, restricting the number of years part-time students can receive subsidized loans.
Ryan Budget Whacks Pell Grants, Makes Federal Student Loans More Expensive
Pell grants are the financial aid packages given to low-income college students which they do not have to pay back. Students who receive them are not required to attend a public college or even stay in their homestate, so that freedom has made it a fairly popular program. However, Rep. Paul Ryan's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/pell-grants-paul-ryan-budget_n_1383178.html" target="_hplink">proposed federal budget would cut $200 million</a> from the program, and potentially eliminate help for more than 1 million students. Currently the maximum Pell grant award is $5,645, which only covers about a third of the cost of attending college. Ryan's budget would cut Pell grant eligibility for students who attend classes on less than halftime. His budget would also make it so college students with federal student loans would have to start paying interest on their loans while still in school.
Student Loans And Bankruptcy
Thanks to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005, virtually no student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy. So in practical terms, if you have $200,000 in debt for credit cards, car payments, or mortgage payments from a private bank, they can all be wiped away in bankruptcy. However, student loans from the same private lender cannot. The argument is that you can take away someone's car when they file bankruptcy, but you cannot take away their education. The Senate <a href="http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/2012/03/28/looming-student-debt-crisis-hits-the-senate" target="_hplink">heard testimony</a> on March 20 about whether or not this should be changed. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-20/durbin-urges-private-student-loans-be-discharged-in-bankruptcy.html" target="_hplink">leading the charge for bankruptcy reform</a> that would allow students to get rid of their student loan debt when and if they file bankruptcy.
Student Loan Forgiveness Act
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/student-loan-forgiveness-act-2012-hansen-clarke_n_1415910.html" target="_hplink">HuffPost Detroit reported</a> on the Student Loan Forgiveness Act, put forward by Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.): <blockquote>H.R. 4170 would forgive student loan debt for those who have paid 10 percent of their discretionary income toward their loans for 10 years and would cap interest on federal student loans at the current rate of 3.4 percent. Individuals who go into teaching, public service or practice medicine in underserved areas would have their debt forgiven after only five years. "Everyone tells us to go to school and work hard and we'll be rewarded for our dedication," Clarke said. "But the promise of a dream can turn into a nightmare for so many people."</blockquote>
Petition For Student Loan Forgiveness Act
An <a href="http://signon.org/sign/support-the-student-loan" target="_hplink">online petition</a> hosted by MoveOn.org has nearly reached its goal of attaining 875,000 signatures in support of the Student Loan Forgiveness Act. The Forgiveness Act would allow students who make payments equal to 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years to have their remaining federal student loan debt forgiven. According to talking points included in the petition, "If you have already been making payments on your student loans, your repayment period would likely be shorter than 10 years. The amount you have already paid on your student loans over the past decade would be credited toward meeting the requirement for forgiveness."
Student Loan Interest Rates: They May Double
A 2007 law that kept federally subsidized Stafford loan interest rates low will expire this summer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/student-loan-interest-rate_n_1371236.html" target="_hplink">meaning the rates would double</a> from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Students have already gone to Capitol Hill to protest and most Democrats are in favor of keeping the interest rates low. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) proposed a bill that would get rid of the expiration date on the discounted student loan rate. However, Republicans argue it would cost the federal government $5.7 billion, which they say is way too much. If Congress does not act, the interest rates for federal student loans would increase on June 30, 2012.
No Definition Of Credit Hours
Republicans passed a bill out of committee that would repeal minimum standards for a credit hour and removes the need for a state to authorize higher education institutions in their state. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) <a href="http://edworkforce.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=281565" target="_hplink">contends this would allow</a> greater flexibility for schools, Democrats counter that it opens the door for fraud. The federal definition of a <a href="http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/blog/overturning-accountability-and-integrity-measures-higher-education-programs-facts-hr-2117" target="_hplink">credit hour is the basic unit</a> underlying the distribution of federal student aid. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/03/15/essay-argues-against-bill-overturn-us-rules-higher-ed-oversight#ixzz1qXWVjWPA" target="_hplink">wrote on Inside Higher Ed</a> that the bill represents a threat to the government's ability to police institutional fraud in the higher education industry. In regards to eliminating the requirement for state authorization for colleges, Bishop said "the bill would make it impossible for states to guarantee the quality of programs operating inside their borders."
Pell Grants Are Now Semester Limited
A rule from the Obama administration <a href="http://www.wtva.com/news/local/story/Longtime-students-may-be-shocked-at-new-law/nDgQP5Yu9ES5KSkIJJYXiw.cspx" target="_hplink">will limit the use</a> of Pell grants to 12 full-time semesters, or approximately six years of studying. The new rule goes into effect July 1, and the Department of Education will contact students in April who have used up their allotted time in school.
Investigate The Federal Loan Programs
Congressional Republicans <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-28/republicans-call-for-congressional-probe-of-student-loan-program" target="_hplink">recently sent a letter</a> to the Government Accountability Office urging them to investigate the federal student loan program and whether they are "appropriately managing student debt." The federal government has turned to private debt collectors to collect money owed for student loans, while $67 billion of student loans are now in default, according to Businessweek. Those contractors out there trying to get students and graduates to pay up are paid on commission. The GOP <a href="http://edworkforce.house.gov/UploadedFiles/03-27-12_-_GAO_Letter_on_FFEL.pdf" target="_hplink">letter said</a> they were concerned borrowers who have defaulted are not getting adequate assistance to get back on track repaying their loans. The letter was signed by Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chair of the House education committee; Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming, the ranking member of the Senate education committee; Reps. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Judy Biggert of Illinois; and Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma
The CFPB Will See You Now
The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said it will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/student-loan-complaints-cfpb_n_1322037.html" target="_hplink">field complaints</a> about billing, confusing advertising and collection by private student lenders, and relay complaints about federal loans. "Getting a higher education can mean taking on significant debt - a big decision with a lot of consequences," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. It's safe to say the CFPB is pretty concerned about student debt among American college students. Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsman for the CFPB, had a grim forecast recently in a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/student-loan-interest-rate_n_1372506.html" target="_hplink">blog post about student debt</a>: "Students continue to borrow private student loans, which lack the income-based repayment and deferment options of federal student loans. If current trends continue, there will be consequences not just for young people, but for all of us."