Senate Compromise Extends Perkins Two Years

December 15, 2015 · by COHEAO · Spark Notes

December 15, 2015

A note from: Wes Huffman (whuffman@wpllc.net)

Senate Perkins Loan supporters reached an agreement yesterday with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on a two-year extension of the Perkins Loan Program.  The extension is a compromise that contains some unfortunate restrictions insisted on by Alexander, but that represents a compromise that will keep the program operating through the expected process of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and determining the long-term future for Perkins.

The compromise was moved forward by a bipartisan group of Senate Perkins supporters and Alexander, who agreed to lift his opposition to any extension of the program, opposition that led to the halting of loans to new borrowers as of Oct. 1, 2015.  The Senate is expected to pass the measure today or tomorrow, with House action hopefully to follow later in the week.

There are certainly troubling provisions, notably restrictions on loans to graduate students, but this represents a huge step forward from the current, bad, situation and gives Perkins supporters a chance to make the case for a continued and improved program for the long term.  We urge support for the compromise.  The summary of the proposal from its Senate sponsors is attached.

Here is the outline:

  • Two-year extension of the program, through September 30, 2017
  • Existing borrowers, including graduate students, grandfathered through Sept. 30, 2016.  This is meant to provide for current students to get their Perkins loans for AY16-17, assuming the Department continues its current policy of permitting second disbursements later of a loan first disbursed by that date.  According to the Department, about three-quarters of current graduate students will be able to complete their program under this approach.
  • No Perkins loans awarded to graduate students who haven’t already received one.
  • Current Perkins borrowers must exhaust subsidized Direct Stafford loans before being awarded Perkins
  • New Perkins borrowers (these will all be undergraduates) must exhaust both subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans before being awarded Perkins.

Senator Alexander or another Republican senator apparently plans to amend HR 3594, the House-passed extension, with these changes then seek to pass the bill by unanimous consent or have a vote on it.  House of Representatives leaders have been informed and we understand will attempt to pass the bill on the suspension calendar before Congress adjourns, expected by next weekend.  They might also seek unanimous consent at the end to pass it, something only done in the House at the end of sessions.  The House passed the original version of H.R. 3594, a one-year extension of the Perkins Program, in late September without opposition, but Alexander blocked it in the Senate.

COHEAO deeply appreciates the continued, energetic and unrelenting support for Perkins by a group of senators who refused to take no for an answer the past two months.  These are Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Casey (D-PA), Robert Portman (R-OH) and HELP Committee Ranking Democrat Patty Murray (D-WA).  They and other strong Senate supporters, a group of about 15 in all, have pushed and pushed with support from grassroots efforts by COHEAO and other higher education associations to keep Perkins alive.

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