U.S Senator Tammy Baldwin Calls for Senate Action on Student Loan Debt Crisis and Announces New Legislation to Address Higher Education Affordability

Washington D.C.—U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin is traveling the state Thursday and Friday to meet with students to discuss the student loan debt crisis and college affordability. Baldwin is calling for the U.S. Senate to take up the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, legislation she has cosponsored, when they return to session next week.

“Student loan debt is holding back an entire generation and creating a drag on economic growth for our country,” said Baldwin.  “I’m calling on my colleagues to move the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act forward and vote to provide some relief to nearly 25 million student loan borrowers. “The ability to refinance at lower rates gives borrowers a fair shot at building a stronger future for themselves. Making college affordable is one of the most important steps we can take toward building a strong path to the middle class for all Americans.”

In an effort to give students a fair shot at an affordable education, Baldwin is a cosponsor of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, legislation to allow those with outstanding student loan debt to refinance at the lower interest rates currently offered to new borrowers. The Department of Education estimates that about 25 million borrowers could benefit from refinancing under this legislation, including 515,000 Wisconsinites. In June, a minority of Senate Republicans obstructed this bill and Baldwin wants the Senate to bring the legislation back for a vote next week.

Baldwin is also announcing that she will introduce two new pieces of legislation next week, focused on helping more students access an affordable education.  Baldwin’s legislation is targeted at Wisconsin working students and technical college students.

Currently, students who work while attending school often are eligible for less financial aid due to their work income. Baldwin’sWorking Student Act will allow students that must work while in college to complete their degrees more quickly and with less debt. The new legislation increases the amount working students can earn without that income counting against them in accessing need-based federal financial aid, including Pell Grants. This legislation is supported by National Education Association, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), the Wisconsin Technical College System, and One Wisconsin Now.

“Working students are doing double duty when they hit the books and punch the clock. The Working Student Act will ensure that hard-working students are not penalized for being diligent in earning the money they need to further their educations and careers,” said David J. Socolow, director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic  Success at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).  “This Act will allow low-income working students to keep more of their wages to support their families and still be eligible for the financial aid they need to meet the growing costs of college.”

“Cuts in financial aid and tuition hikes are endangering access to higher education for prospective students and piling debt on those already in school. Senator Baldwin’s Working Student Act is a simple reform that will stop punishing hardworking students for being hardworking. It’s a welcome bit of good news in the fight to put the brakes on a student loan debt crisis spiraling out of control,” saidScott Ross, Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now.

In addition, Baldwin’s CTE Opportunity Act extends eligibility for federal student loans to short-term career and technical education (CTE) programs which do not meet the current program length requirements under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. This extended eligibility for federal aid provides increased access to courses that provide students with the industry-recognized credentials that employers are looking for. This legislation is supported by the Association for Career and Technical Education and the Wisconsin Technical College System.

“The CTE Opportunity Act will help students access federal loans to complete certificate and other short-term programs, making it more feasible for working adults and other non-traditional students to return to school and improve their skills, said Morna K. Foy, President Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS). “The limited financial resources of WTCS students means that the costs of earning credentials can be a major barrier.  Therefore, any federal effort to expand financial aid availability (both grants and loans) for WTCS students will help improve Wisconsin’s economy.” 

Baldwin is meeting with students at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and Madison Area Technical College on Thursday. She will meet with students at Milwaukee Area Technical College Friday. Previously, she has heard from student loan borrowers at UW-Green Bay and UW-Madison.

Nearly 40 million Americans have outstanding student loans. According to new data from the Federal Reserve, student loan debt grew by $31 billion from January to March of this year, now totaling $1.2 trillion across the country, making student loan debt the fastest growing household debt category. The rising debt load makes it more difficult for young professionals to purchase homes, automobiles, and other goods, creating a huge drag on the overall economy.