This Week In Washington
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), is considering pushing a piecemeal update to the Higher Education Act (HEA). The update would include broadening Pell eligibility to short-term programs, overturning the ban on student-level data, providing for a simplified FAFSA application, and lifting restrictions on Pell eligibility for incarcerated individuals. The GOP leader hopes to attach the scaled-back package of higher education bills to a funding bill for historically black colleges that was passed by the House on Tuesday. No language has been released of the potential legislation.
On Thursday, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing entitled "Broken Promises: Examining the Failed Implementation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program." The hearing focused on examining some of the failures of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program. While there seemed to be bipartisan consensus that something needed to be done to better assist borrowers, the two parties disagreed on how the issues arose and what remedy would work best. In one exchange between the committee’s ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-NC-05) and a witness, it was suggested that PSLF be capped to prevent graduate students from taking advantage of the program. Democratic lawmakers also spent a considerable amount of time highlighting their disappointment with the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which services the loans of PSLF-eligible borrowers, for declining to participate in the hearing. You can watch a replay of the hearing here.
The Senate Appropriations Committee released text for its FY 2020 Labor-HHS-Education and Defense spending bills. The committee report includes a recommendation to provide an additional $100,000,000 to the TEPSLF programs for borrowers who are not eligible for traditional PSLF because of payments made under an ineligible repayment plan. Combined with the current unobligated balance, the total funding available to borrowers in 2020 would be $760,000,000.
News You Can Use
In its 14th annual report on student debt, The Institute for College Access and Success finds that the average undergraduate student debt for the class of 2018 was two percent higher than the 2017 average.
A report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy found that public flagship universities are not meeting the financial needs of low- and middle-income students and are overly subsidizing wealthier students.
The following bill(s) have been recently introduced for consideration by the 116th Congress (2019-2020):
H.R. 4310 – Public Service Expansion Act [Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA-2)] would amend the Higher Education Act to clarify that employment in any position at a nonprofit organization is a public service job for purposes of the PSLF program. Such a change would expand PSLF to those working for faith-based non-profits, including clergy.
H.R. 4343 – Financial Aid Communication and Transparency (FACT) Act [Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA-3) and Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA-11)] would ensure that all students receive clear, comparable financial aid offers from each institution they are accepted to attend and during every year of enrollment.
H.R. 4391 – Public Service Loan Forgiveness Modernization Act [Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11)] would simplify the PSLF and TEPSLF programs by creating an easily searchable database of qualified public service employers, ensuring that borrowers are alerted in advance when they need to recertify their employment, and providing borrowers with an annual statement of qualified payments made to date.