A college student loan program with bipartisan support will expire Saturday after key Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander blocked legislation to extend it.
The need-based program will lapse midnight Saturday, depriving tens of thousands of college students of a source of financial aid that is a mix of federal dollars and college contributions.
“It is time for our country, through legislation by this Congress and attempted to pass it through an expedited process requiring unanimous consent, to move on to a simplified federal student aid program, that has only one federal loan for students, one federal grant for students and one work-study program for students,” said Alexander, objecting on the Senate floor to a bipartisan bill to extend the loan program to 2019.
Bill sponsor Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who attempted to pass the legislation through an expedited process requiring unanimous consent of all senators, agreed that the overall federal student aid system needed to be simplified. However, the Wisconsin Democrat said it was not “right or fair to end this program with nothing to replace it to the detriment of students in need.”
Perkins provided $1.2 billion in funds to 528,000 students in the 2014-15 school year, and was supported by colleges and universities as well as lawmakers from both parties. Alexander, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that all students who have a Perkins Loan will keep it for the rest of the school year.
The last time the program was reauthorized in 2015, it had expired for several months before senators reached an agreement to continue it temporarily. As part of the agreement, Perkins aid ended for graduate students in 2016 and required colleges and universities to let undergraduates know that the program would end in October 2017.
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The House has yet to move on a bipartisan bill to reauthorize Perkins.
On Tuesday, 220 House lawmakers asked leadership for a vote on the House legislation to reauthorize the program for an additional two years. The measure has overwhelming support from Democrats, but a number of Republican lawmakers also signed on to the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.
Like Alexander, Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx also wants to see the federal government offer students one loan, one grant and one work-study program.
“Multiple administrations and Congresses, both Republican and Democrat, have made their intention to end Perkins abundantly clear,” said a committee spokesman. “An end to Perkins is a step towards additional reforms to a large and complex student financial aid framework that is not serving student borrowers.”