Senator drafts bills to lower debts

Gabriel Garza

A newly proposed initiative could reduce the amount of debt college students face after graduation.

Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has drafted two bills in an effort to make earning a college degree a more attainable goal.

In an interview with WJBO Radio, Landrieu addressed her initiative and the importance of a college degree.

“A college degree should help individuals build dreams, not debt. A basic American principle is when you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve a fair shot to build a prosperous future and earn a passport to the middle class,” Landrieu said.

With her initiative, Passport to the Middle Class, Landrieu aims to lower interest rates on student loans and increase the amount awarded by the Pell grant through two separate bills.

“There are over 600,000 students with $200,000 student loan debt,” an aid of Landrieu’s said. “This bill would address the Pell grant and provide support for students to pay for college while also preventing students from falling into more debt.”

The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Act would decrease the interest rate on student loans, allowing students with private and federal undergraduate loans to refinance them at 3.86 percent. Landrieu said this will allow responsible borrowers to get a fair interest rate that would save them an average of $8,000 over the life of the loan.

The Middle Class Creating Higher Education Affordability Necessary to Compete Economically Act, also called the CHANCE Act, would increase the amount students receive from the Pell grant. The grant covered the full cost of college when it was created in 1972, but today the maximum award only covers 40 percent of tuition costs for a public four-year college in Louisiana.

William Hernandez, business sophomore, said he would greatly benefit from an increased Pell grant.

“It would allow me to focus on classes more,” Hernandez said. “I wouldn’t have to worry about working more than one job to help pay for my loans, and it would significantly relieve a lot of stress from my shoulders.”

Tommy Screen, director of government relations, said the amount awarded by the Pell grant is lower than in past years because of the number of recipients and the trending rise of tuition.

“The Pell is paying for a smaller percentage of college tuition than it used to. Part of the reason for this is the number of students that have become eligible for the Pell program has increased dramatically over the last 10 to 15 years,” Screen said. “Another reason the percentage has decreased is that tuition has risen at a greater rate than the rate the maximum award has increased.”

Screen said the success of the bills depend on the Congressional calendar and what legislation Congress considers during the rest of this calendar year.

“This congress will end Dec. 31; if nothing is passed by then, they will then have to reintroduce it again in January,” Screen said.