U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, was busy this week championing efforts for a balanced budget, flood relief for Colorado’s energy sector and a commonsense solution to the rising student loan debt crisis.
The crusade began Wednesday when Polis teamed up with California Democrat Barbara Lee in penning a letter to chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees making a case for parity between defense and non-defense cuts in any sequestration deal. The letter was signed by 64 members of Congress.
“From 57,000 children being kicked out of Head Start, to cuts to the Meals on Wheels program that many seniors rely on every day, sequestration has disproportionately impacted low-income and middle-class families in America,” Polis said in a news release. “Just when we are ending our combat missions in Afghanistan and have ended the war in Iraq, we must not continue to favor defense spending over programs that benefit low-income and middle-class families.”
Polis was joined Wednesday by another California Democrat, Jared Huffman, in introducing an amendment to House Resolution 13-1965, the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act, requiring the National Academy of Sciences to study the environmental impact of flooding on oil and gas facilities and to report its findings to Congress.
“The September floods in Colorado not only caused extensive damage to homes and infrastructure, but also caused an unprecedented level of destruction to thousands of oil and gas facilities in northeastern Colorado,” Polis said. “Floods can happen anywhere and it’s important to understand how we can minimize damage to oil and gas infrastructure.”
The amendment was killed by a floor vote, 221-201.
Then on Thursday, Polis partnered with Reps. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., on legislation to tackle the rising student loan debt crisis.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, American families face an avalanche of more than $1 trillion in student loan debt, which amounts to approximately $24,000 in student loan debt for each of the nation’s 37 million student borrowers, Polis stated in a release.
The Know Before You Owe Act would help level the playing field by ensuring that student borrowers know about the financial advantages of lower cost federal loans before borrowing in the private market, the release stated. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 40 percent of students who have private student loan debt had not exhausted all of their federal loan options, which come with interest rates as low as 3.4 percent compared with an average of 7.8 percent for private loans.
“In today’s knowledge-based economy, a college degree is the best investment that a student can make for their future,” Polis said. “However, with the rising costs of higher education, today’s students are being hamstrung by record debt levels, forcing them to delay other important investments in their futures, including saving for a secure retirement or purchasing a home.”
The Know Before You Owe Act would require private lenders to:
• Certify with the borrower’s school that the student is enrolled and the amount the student is eligible to borrow before issuing a private loan
• Provide borrowers with quarterly updates on their loans, including accrued but unpaid interest and capitalized interest
• Report information to the CFPB about their student loans
The bill would also require institutions of higher education to inform students about:
• Federal financial aid availability and eligibility
• Their ability to select a private lender of their choice
• Impacts of a private loan on their eligibility for other forms of financial aid
• Their right to accept, reject or cancel a private loan as allowed under current law and the terms and conditions of federal and private student loans
“By empowering students with simple disclosure and coordination about the federal financial aid options before they turn to more expensive private loans, the Know Before You Owe Act will go a long way to help students make smart choices about the most affordable student loan opportunities available to them,” Polis said. “Through simple coordination and disclosure, we can save student loan borrowers billions of dollars and make their education more affordable.”
The bill is supported by the Institute for College Access and Success, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Young Invincibles, a national organization representing the needs of individuals ages 18 to 34, among others.