Senate Perkins Compromise Passes by Unanimous Consent

December 16, 2015 · by COHEAO · Spark Notes

A note from the COHEAO DC Office

Today, the Senate passed the Perkins Loan Extension Act of 2015 by unanimous consent (UC).  After Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) twice objected to bipartisan UC requests to pass the House passed-legislation extending the program (H.R. 3594) in September and October, he reached an agreement with the bipartisan group of Senate Perkins Loan champions to extend the Perkins Loan program for two years, but with some changes to the program.   We are not happy with all the changes, but important improvements were made from initial proposals.  In the end, a compromise was reached that does keep Perkins alive.

The legislation now moves back to the House, and we are hopeful for passage before the end of the year.  After the passage of the compromise, House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) issued a press statement applauding the deal.  Even in the face of massive year-end legislative packages, such as the omnibus spending bill or tax extenders package, the House will often move many relatively non-controversial bills at the end of a session under “Suspension of the Rules” or another fast-track legislative maneuver.

The statement of support from Kline and Bishop shows a desire in the House to move a bill, and COHEAO is cautiously optimistic the extension will pass before the end of the year. Despite our concerns with some of the more troubling aspects of the legislation, COHEAO is encouraging the House to act on the freshly amended H.R. 3594 immediately.

In announcing the agreement, Chairman Alexander was joined by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Rob Portman (R-OH) in a colloquy discussing Perkins Loans. Alexander maintained that Perkins Loans are duplicative of Stafford Loans, but allowed the compromise will give time for further discussion on the future of Perkins and the entire Title IV student aid apparatus during the broader reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in the coming months. He continued to push for the FAST Act and what he describes as a “One Grant/One Loan” system, but the Chairman praised his colleagues for their eloquence and tenacity in defending the program’s merits.

Senator Baldwin said Perkins is a “vital investment in students” that has been successful in improving access to higher education and enabling students to pursue their dreams. Praising the extension, which the Senator noted “is fully paid for,” Baldwin said the compromise breaks gridlock and allows for extended dialogue on the future of Perkins.

Senators Casey, Portman, and Ayotte all had similar remarks.  Each were grateful for the extension, urged the House to act before the end of the year, and said they agreed in principle on simplification, but there also needed to be room for flexibility for students and institutions of higher education in the student aid programs—the type of flexibility provided by Perkins Loans!

The details of the extension are far from ideal, but that can be the nature of compromise, and the Perkins Loan Program enters the larger HEA debate in a much better position as an authorized program.  An outline of the Senate-passed Perkins Loan Extension Act is included below.

  • 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.
  • Some new, additional disclosures will have to be made to Perkins borrowers.

We will keep you apprised of developments as the legislation now volleys back to the House of Representatives.  Thank you for your efforts to date to preserve the Perkins Loan Program.  This progress in the Senate is due to all the strong grassroots support in support of the program!

Additional Information

 

If you have any questions, please contact:

Harrison Wadsworth (hwadsworth@wpllc.net)

Wes Huffman (whuffman@wpllc.net)

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