Congressman Peter DeFazio (OR-04) recently introduced HIGHER ED and AID, two laws aimed at making it easier for students to attend and pay for higher education.
“We have a serious problem in the United States, the financial barriers to obtaining and paying for a higher education are getting harder and harder to overcome,” Rep. DeFazio said. “The pandemic has only made this problem worse. Oregon students need help, and I offer solutions that will allow them to focus on their future without worrying about debt and financial costs. I’ve long said that an education – whether it’s in a vocational school, community college, or four-year college – should open doors for students, not burden them with insurmountable financial burdens.
While student borrowers on federally supported student loans have been granted a suspension of student loan payments until May 31, 2022, DeFazio offers solutions to provide permanent relief to student borrowers.
Currently, former students enrolled in income-driven repayment plans are generally required to begin repaying their loans when they earn a salary of at least 150% of the poverty line, which in 2022 is a meager 20,925 $. Under the HIGHER ED (Helping Individuals Get a Higher Education while Reducing Education Debt) Act, the minimum threshold for income-tested repayment plans would be raised to 250% of the federal poverty level, so low-income borrowers can focus on jump-starting their careers rather than being overwhelmed with monthly payments. It would also cap monthly payments at 5% of discretionary income and cancel any remaining debt after 20 years.
Additionally, the Higher Education Act would strengthen the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), providing a ten percent remission for each year a borrower is employed in the public service. It would also simplify the PSLF application and certification process, and allow borrowers who were in the wrong repayment plan to count initial monthly payments toward the total required for loan forgiveness.
The Achieving Independence through Degrees (AID) Act would improve college affordability and accessibility, doubling the Pell Grant award from $6,495 to $13,000, indexing the award to inflation each year after, allowing students to use the award for living expenses and other tuition fees, and make it tax-free. It would also expand Pell Grants to cover short-term workforce training programs of at least 150 hours or eight weeks at accredited institutions to create new employment opportunities for the unemployed or those seek to strengthen their position in the labor market.
The aid law would also expand student eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This would exclude loans used to cover living expenses from a student’s eligibility for SNAP, remove onerous work requirements for eligibility by allowing attendance at a college or school post-secondary to be a work-like form of SNAP qualification, and would allow automatic eligibility for students who have a $0 expected family contribution, receive the maximum Pell Grant, are in foster care, are a veteran, or are homeless.
DeFazio fought to make higher education more affordable throughout his tenure in Congress. He has repeatedly introduced laws to remove barriers that prevent students from attending and paying for higher education.