Perkins Loan renewal fails on Senate Floor

Kimberly Wethal, Editor-in-Chief

The Federal Perkins Loan Program, which provides financial aid to half a million low-income university students, 1,213 of whom are University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students, has failed in the U.S. Senate.

Four members of Congress, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) have introduced legislation to extend the 59-year-old, $28 billion revolving loan program for an additional two years.

The bill died on the floor of the senate, as Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) opposed the bill.

“The Perkins Loan Program expires in two days, yet our bipartisan legislation to extend this critical college affordability program has been obstructed,” Baldwin said in a news release dated Sept. 28. “Students and families are depending on Washington to get the job done, not block college affordability. I will continue to fight to extend this support for America’s students, and I hope Americans urge their Senators to join this bipartisan effort and act now to protect the future of this program.”

Four other senators, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) also cosponsor the bill. Similar legislation to continue the program was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) and Elise Stefanik (R-New York).

The program had a sunset date of Sept. 30, so the language of the bill amends the legislation passed in December 2015 by changing the dates of the program’s duration to extend it until Sept. 30, 2019.

According a news release from the United States Senate, the four senators took the lead two years ago on passing the bill, which at that time faced opposition from Alexander, who opposes the extension of the program because he wanted all federal loans to be consolidated into a single unsubsidized program.

The program expired in October 2015 due to Alexander’s dissent toward the program, but was reinstated in December 2015 after passing the Senate unanimously.

“No one should be denied the chance to pursue higher education simply because of their financial status,” Portman said. “For years, the assistance of the Perkins Loan Program has helped low-income students attend college—oftentimes as the first generation of their family to do so. Two years ago, Congress came together in a bipartisan way to extend this program. This legislation will extend those efforts and continue providing students the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”