President Trump’s budget plans were the topic of discussion at Monday’s press conference in Hartford, where Congressman Joe Courtney, who serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee, joined students and the community to voice concerns. “I am urging President Trump to reconsider many of the proposals in his budget, particularly those impacting access to college aid, and to uphold his campaign promises to fight for the middle-class rather than cutting their lifelines,” Courtney said.
The proposed spending cuts reduces the Department of Education budget by $9 billion, affecting Subsidized Stafford Loans, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, work-study funds, and Pell grants.
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Under the current policy, subsidizing interest on Stafford Loans occurs for the duration of a student’s school career, as well as six months afterwards. Budget changes will phase out this program, and are projected to cost students a total of $39 billion over the next decade. Critics say eliminating this program will generate an increase in students graduating with debt, a statistic that rested at 70% as of 2015.
Since the 1960s, students have been able to help pay tuition by joining the school’s labor force through federal work-study funds. About one in 10 full-time students in their first undergraduate year are supported by this program. However, Trump’s budget plan is expected to cut funding for these programs in half.
Dr. Katherine Marcello, a Family Medicine Resident at Middlesex Hospital, focused on the proposed elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). PSLF forgives debt for those who pay federal student loans on-time for 10 years, and who work in the public sector. “If the PSLF program is eliminated it will discourage more medical students from going into primary care which will be detrimental to the health of the American people,” said Marcello. She shared the benefits the PSLF program has given her during her professional career. “The PSLF program has allowed me to feel my debt is manageable and reassured me that I could pursue my love for medicine” said Marcello. Borrowers from the program’s establishment in 2007 were forgiven this year, and 552,931 workers in the public sector are currently enrolled.
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Concern also rises from the president’s decision to keep the Pell grant funds at $22.5 billion, which is the same figure as 2016. Many feel an increase in funds from last year is necessary to keep up with consistently increasing costs. Additionally, the budget plan intends to take $3.9 billion from the current $10.6 billion surplus, which many advocate should be used in funding year-round Pell grants.
Those opposed to the president’s plan fear that these budget cuts to the Department of Education will be detrimental to the future of young America. “With the level of student debt soaring right alongside the cost of a college degree, there is simply no excuse for undermining federal programs that are intended to relieve some of the burdens on families. Keeping college affordable must be a top priority in Washington,” said Courtney.
The congressman shared a “common sense proposal” by referencing the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act that he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren reintroduced last month.