On September 30, a bipartisan group of lawmakers took to the Senate floor to discuss adopting the House-passed Higher Education Extension Act of 2015, a bill that would extend the Federal Perkins Loan Program for an additional year. Though there was significant bipartisan support for the program in the Senate, led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), it failed to pass when Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, objected under a “unanimous consent” procedure, which requires unanimity to move issues forward. With his objection, the program expired at midnight.
Under the expiration, schools should follow the already-issued Department of Education (ED) guidance and associated Q & A related to awarding, grandfathering and the revolving fund. As of today, schools can no longer make loans to new borrowers, though some current borrowers who received at least one Perkins disbursement on or before June 30, 2015, may continue to receive Perkins for up to an additional five years if they meet certain conditions.
Alexander contended that extending the Perkins program would simply perpetuate an overly-complex federal student aid system and that an extension would be in direct conflict with the tenets of his bipartisan Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act. As a reminder, in addition to replacing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) with a two-question postcard, the FAST Act also called for a system with only one grant and one loan. Senators in favor of extension cited the need for a bridge to carry the program through reauthorization, where the issue could be discussed within a larger context. Sen. Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) joined Baldwin in expressing their support for the program on the floor of the Senate.
It is possible that Perkins could be considered again during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA); however, the failure to pass this short-term extension does not bode well for its future. “We are disappointed at the failure to extend the Perkins Loan Program, particularly without a larger conversation about how schools will fill the financial need that future students will experience,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “The program is a tried and true example of an effective ‘skin-in-the-game’ policy, and it is unfortunate for thousands of future students and families that Congress was unable to discuss the future of this program within the broader context of reauthorization.”
NASFAA will work with ED to help ensure a smooth and equitable close-out of the program. Stay tuned to Today’s News for the latest updates.
Publication Date: 10/1/2015