ON SENATE FLOOR, SHAHEEN CALLS ON CONGRESS TO PASS LEGISLATION TO HELP EASE STUDENT DEBT BURDEN

June 10, 2014

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today called for action on legislation to address the growing student loan debt crisis that is hurting the economy and families in New Hampshire and across the country. On the Senate floor, Shaheen called for swift passage of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act which would allow eligible borrowers with outstanding student loan debt to refinance at the lower interest rates currently offered to new borrowers.

Shaheen also announced her plan to introduce an amendment to the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act similar to her bill the Simplifying Access to Student Loan Information Act introduced earlier this year. This amendment would call for the development of a central online portal that will allow students to review all their federal and private student loans as well as repayment options in one place, which would in turn help students better manage, understand and repay their debt.

The full text of Senator Shaheen’s remarks as prepared for delivery are included below:

Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the pressing challenge of college affordability.

As I travel throughout New Hampshire, I continue to hear young people and their families express their deep concerns about the high cost of college and about their student loans.

In New Hampshire, this problem is especially significant, as my state ranks second highest in the nation for the proportion of students graduating school with debt and for the average debt amount per graduate -- 74 percent of our state’s college graduates hold debt, carrying an average balance of nearly $33,000 each.

I’ve heard from some people who feel that they will never be able to get out from under the burden of their student debt.

We all know that obtaining a college education has long been viewed as a step that can propel Americans into the middle class, allowing them to pursue goals like opening a business or purchasing a home.

However, education costs have increased at four times the rate of inflation from 1985 to 2011.

This is a problem that has both short-term and long-term implications for our citizens who want to continue their education after high school.

This is also a problem that has serious long-term implications for our nation’s economy. 

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, approximately 40 million Americans hold more than $1.2 trillion dollars in student loan debt.

The agency also indicates that student loan debt has exceeded credit card debt in the country and is exceeded only by home mortgages.

And while Americans are struggling to pay back this staggering debt, it is projected that the federal government will earn $66 billion in profits from its role in student lending between 2007 and 2012.  This is not right.

Clearly it is time for Congress to take action to help individuals with student debt. It is time to help them reclaim their American dream and have a chance at pursuing the goals that drove them to higher education in the first place.

To this end, I am very pleased to join with so many of my colleagues in supporting the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act.

This legislation would allow eligible borrowers who took out student loans prior to July 1, 2013 to refinance those loans to the rates currently being offered to new borrowers.

It is clear that Congress needs to come together to work to reduce the cost of college for aspiring students throughout the country.

But we also need to provide relief to those who have already borrowed to pursue their education, many of whom have interest rates for their student loans that are much higher than they would face if they were purchasing a home or a car.

This action is overdue. 

The extent to which young people are feeling this pressure really came home to me when I visited a veteran from New Hampshire who served in Afghanistan, named Calvin. 

I first met Calvin at Walter Reed Medical Center where he was recovering after losing his leg from stepping on an IED.

He was married with a young child and he was talking about the challenges he faced after he recovered from him injuries. The thing that impressed me the most was his number one concern was how he and his wife were going to repay their student loans.

That’s why we need to do something about this. We’ve got to make sure that young people like Calvin don’t spend their professional lives worrying about how to pay back their student loans.

I plan to file an amendment today as we take up the Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act that will address the challenges that young people have as they look at trying to keep track of their student loans.

I think they need an online portal that gives them a one-stop-shop so they can view all of their student loan information, public and private, in one central online location.

The need for my amendment is clear after stories I’ve heard from people like Kim from Nashua, New Hampshire.

Kim is a 30-year old woman who has student debt from obtaining her bachelors and two masters’ degrees. 

Her student loan payments cost her more per month than a home mortgage would. 

Kim recently found a job that’s helping her make her loan payments, but before she got that offer, she felt overwhelmed by her debt and found it difficult to communicate and work with her lenders.

By providing a one-stop online shop for debt management, my amendment will give people like Kim an easier way to track and understand debt and repayment options. 

I’m pleased that yesterday the President announced a number of initiatives to help borrowers, including plans similar to provisions in my Simplifying Access to Student Loan Information Act that will encourage the use of innovative methods of communication with borrowers.

As we all know we need to do more in this Congress to help borrowers who are struggling to repay their student loans.

I thank my colleague from Massachusetts, Senator Warren, for her work on this bill, and I look forward to continuing to work with her and all of my colleagues to ensure that student loan borrowers finally see some relief.