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Israel, Meng co-sponsor bill on student loan rates

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (second from l.) calls on Congress to take action before Stafford loan interest rates double for students in July. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

The clock is ticking for Congress to act on what U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) called a time bomb on college affordability for more than 7 million students.

Israel and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) stood with college students from their congressional districts Friday to call on their colleagues in government to keep their loan interest rates from doubling. If Congress does not take action by the summer, the fixed interest rates on subsidized federal Stafford loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8, the officials said.

“An affordable and quality education should be readily available, but too many students today are facing crippling student loan debt,” Israel said. “If nothing is done, millions of students and families will face higher student interest rates that they simply can’t afford.”

Congress had initially passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act under President George W. Bush in 2007, lowering interest rates on need-based Stafford loans gradually from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over a four-year period. The program was then extended in 2012 for another year to give Congress time to debate whether or not rates should be kept at the lower rate, Israel said.

But that year was apparently not enough, according to the Long Island-based congressman. Since the House could not find enough time to debate the rate, Israel said he and Meng would co-sponsor legislation dubbed the Student Loan Relief Act of 2013 to extend the 3.4 percent interest rate for another two years.

If the rate doubles, the elected officials said more than 7 million students would see their costs increase by more than $1,000 through repayment each year Congress does not act.

“Make no mistake, students from New York and across the nation will be hit hard if Congress fails to prevent interest rates from doubling,” Meng said. “Balancing the federal budget is crucial. But it should not be done on the backs of our students.”

Maspeth college student Gabriel Yoon is readying for his sophomore year at SUNY Maritime to study electrical engineering and said Friday he was concerned over Congress’ inaction.

“Ensuring that higher education is affordable is critical to me and millions of other students and their families,” Yoon said. “I urge Congress to not let America’s college students down.”

Outstanding student debt currently sits at more than $1 trillion, Israel said, with graduates leaving school owing an average of $25,000. When coupling that with a dismal job market, the elected officials said subsidized Stafford loans were more essential than ever for anyone seeking higher education.

The bill would ultimately cost taxpayers about $7 billion, Israel said, but most of which could be funded if the House of Representatives reconsidered its priorities for subsidies.

Instead of subsidizing big oil companies, Israel said government money should be repositioned to help pay for the federal student loans to continue to make college more affordable.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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