While the address of Pope Francis to a joint meeting of Congress was the main event on Capitol Hill yesterday, the Perkins Loan Program saw plenty of attention from a bipartisan mix of members of Congress from both the House and Senate. If not extended by October 1, the Perkins Loan Program will expire.
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Bishop (R-MI) and Rep. Pocan (D-WI) introduced the Higher Education Extension Act of 2015. This bill extends the Federal Perkins Loan Program for one year and adds a one-year extension to two advisory committees (the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality Integrity).
The one-year extension would extend the authority to make loans under Perkins until September 30, 2016. Students who receive a Perkins loan during the 2015-2016 award year and remain in the same academic program will be eligible to receive loans through March 31, 2018, according to a fact sheet. As before, a student must remain in the same academic program at the same institution to be eligible for grandfathering. Furthermore, the institution must award all Direct Stafford Loans for which the student is eligible before awarding a Perkins Loan to a student.
“An extension of the Perkins Loan Program allows lawmakers and higher education advocates an opportunity to properly assess the value of this vital program in the context of a broader look at simplification and affordability in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act rather than through the budget process,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “While this legislation shortens the grandfathering period and excludes students who change their program of study, we are still encouraged by the bipartisan acknowledgement of this program’s importance. We look forward to continuing the dialogue about ways we can ensure better access to higher education. For now, we can be sure that letting the Perkins loan program expire without addressing the real funding gap students would experience is no way to achieve that end.”
“This bill will ensure we continue to support students and institutions while we continue our larger effort to strengthen higher education,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) in a press release. “Representatives Bishop and Pocan are to be commended for putting forward this bipartisan proposal,” he continued.
NASFAA has been working with lawmakers in both the House and Senate for months trying to find a way to extend the program, at least until Perkins can be appropriately addressed during reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. To date, the House of Representatives has demonstrated more interest in saving Perkins, as Rep. Messer (R-IN) and Rep. Pocan (D-WI) introduced a resolution in June to save the program and Rep. Slaughter (D-NY) circulated a Dear Colleague Letter earlier this month expressing the same interest in ensuring Perkins does not expire. One hundred and eighteen Representatives in the House have publicly expressed their support for Perkins.
Following the lead of the House of Representatives, four U.S. Senators introduced a resolution expressing support for the continuation of the Perkins Loan Program on Thursday. The bipartisan group of Senators, spearheaded by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), includes Sen. Collins (R-ME), Sen. Portman (R-OH), and Sen. Casey (D-PA). Baldwin, Collins, and Casey all sit on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
“Since 1958, the Federal Perkins Loan Program has been successfully helping America’s students access affordable higher education. In my home state of Wisconsin, the program provides more than 20,000 low-income students with more than $41 million in aid and it is my top priority to fight to ensure it continues for generations to come. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to join in this bipartisan effort,” said Senator Baldwin in a press release.
The text of the resolution matches identical language in the Messer and Pocan resolution introduced in the House of Representatives in June. The introduction of this resolution marks the first action by the Senate on Perkins; however, it should be noted that this resolution only expresses support for the reauthorization of the program. Another piece of legislation would be required to extend the program. Most likely, the Senate would wait for the legislation introduced yesterday by Bishop and Pocan to clear the House of Representatives before Senators would take up a Perkins extension.
Now, more than ever, aid administrators are encouraged to contact their Senators and Representatives to express their support for the extension of the Perkins Loan Program. With only days before the deadline, every bit of outreach and advocacy helps.
Publication Date: 9/25/2015