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Schatz and Pocan Reintroduce Legislation to End Student Loan Debt Crisis

Mar 6, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC (March 6, 2019) – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (WI-02) led a group of 42 members of Congress in reintroducing the Debt-Free College Act, legislation that will reverse the growing student debt crisis in the United States. The bill restores a path to affordable college by providing states incentives through matching grants to increase investments in public higher education and provide students with debt-free college.

If signed into law, the Debt-Free College Act would establish a state-federal partnership that provides a dollar-for-dollar federal match to state higher education appropriations in exchange for a commitment to help students pay for the full cost of attendance without having to take on debt.

“The full cost of college – including books, room and board, and supplies -- is more than twice as much as tuition. If we are going to be serious about solving the student loan debt crisis we need to focus on the real cost to students and their families,” said Senator Schatz. “My bill brings states back to the table and leverages federal dollars to reinvest in public education, and help people cover the full cost of college.”

“Higher education is one of the most certain paths to economic security and opportunity for Americans. However, while college-degree holders earn significantly more than workers with only high school degrees, the cost of higher education – including tuition, living expenses, books, housing, meals, and more – is now out of reach for many students and their families,” said Congressman Pocan. “The Debt-Free College Act creates a critical federal-state partnership that would make debt-free college a reality for students within five years. With the federal government, states, colleges and universities, and students and their families all contributing, we can ensure that students graduate debt free and are not at a competitive disadvantage as a result of being burdened with student loan debt.”

Beyond tuition and fees, the total cost of attendance—room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses—has forced 44 million Americans to take on debt to cover their financial need. College debt has increased 170 percent since 2006 and now exceeds $1.5 trillion dollars, which is second only to mortgage debt and surpasses even credit card debt.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt is responsible for 35 percent of the decline in homeownership since 2007. The percentage of younger people who reported owning a business was cut in half between 2010 and 2013. Pew Research Center found that about 50 percent of student borrowers say their loans increase their risk of defaulting on other bills.

“For far too many Americans, a college degree is out of reach because of the incredible cost – and for too many others, the debt incurred on the path to higher education makes long-term financial stability all but impossible,” said Congresswoman Lee. “This is especially true for African American students and students of color, who are less likely to be able to afford college than their white peers and more likely to default on their loans after graduating. I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation to make college more affordable for all Americans and to address the current crisis in student loan debt.”

“American students deserve a real shot at achieving their dreams, not a ‘debt sentence’ if they choose to go to college. Unfortunately, too many students have had those dreams dashed by mountains of student debt and by rogue loan servicers hounding them into bankruptcy, which is why 11 of our members have brought a class action suit against Navient. They’re shouldering $1.7 trillion of debt, often paying hundreds of dollars a month, partly because 41 states still spend less on higher education than they did before the recession. This pathbreaking bill will help stoke new investment instead of creating more austerity, which will help students graduate debt-free. We hope that Congress, state governments and higher education institutions will work together to turn this bill into urgently needed law,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.

The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

In the House, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), Judy Chu (CA-27), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Chuy García (IL-04), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Katie Hill (CA-25), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Gwen S. Moore (WI-04), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), José E. Serrano (NY-15), Mark Takano (CA-41), Bennie G. Thompson (MS-02), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Peter Welch (VT-AL), and Nydia Velázquez (NY-07).

The bill is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for Law and Social Policy, Council for Opportunity in Education, Demos, Institute for Higher Education Policy, Jumpstart, NAACP, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, Social Security Works, and Young Invincibles.