Congressman Peter DeFazio (OR-04) recently introduced the HIGHER ED and AID Acts, two pieces of legislation aimed at making it easier for students to attend and pay for higher education.
“We have a serious problem in the U.S., financial barriers to obtaining and paying for a higher education are becoming harder to overcome,” said Rep. DeFazio. “The pandemic only made this problem worse. Oregon’s students need help, and I’m offering solutions that will allow them to focus on their futures without worrying about debt and financial costs. I have long said that an education – whether from a vocational school, community college, or four-year college – ought to open doors for students, not weigh them down with insurmountable financial burdens.”
While student borrowers with federally backed student loans have been provided a suspension of student loan payments until May 31, 2022, DeFazio is proposing solutions to provide permanent relief to student borrowers.
Currently, former students enrolled in Income-Driven Repayment plans are generally required to start making payments on their loans upon earning a salary of at least 150 percent of the poverty level, which in 2022 is a measly $20,925. Under the HIGHER ED (Helping Individuals Get a Higher Education while Reducing Education Debt) Act, the minimum threshold for Income-Driven Repayment Plans would be raised to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, so that low-income borrowers can focus on starting their careers rather than being overwhelmed by monthly payments. It would also cap monthly payments at 5 percent of discretionary income and forgive all remaining debt after 20 years.
Additionally, the HIGHER ED Act would bolster the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, providing ten percent forgiveness for every year a borrower works a public service job. It would also simplify the PSLF application and certification process, and it would allow borrowers who were in the wrong repayment plan to count original monthly payments toward the total required for loan forgiveness.
The AID (Achieving Independence through Degrees) Act would improve college affordability and accessibility, doubling the Pell Grant award from $6,495 to $13,000, indexing the award to inflation every year after, allowing students to use the award for living and other non-tuition expenses, and making it tax exempt. 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 job opportunities for the unemployed or those looking to strengthen their position in the labor market.
The AID Act would also expand student eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It would exclude loans used to cover living expenses from counting against a student’s SNAP eligibility, remove burdensome work requirements for eligibility by allowing attendance at an institution of higher education or postsecondary school to be a form of SNAP qualification similar to work, and allow automatic eligibility for students who have an expected family contribution of $0, receive the maximum Pell Grant, are in foster care, are a veteran, or are homeless.
DeFazio has fought to make higher education more affordable throughout his time in Congress. He has repeatedly introduced legislation to remove barriers that prevent students from attending and paying for higher education.