Payne Says Affordable Education Must Be a Top Priority

May 20, 2013 Issues: Education
Scroll down for video. Remarks prepared for delivery.
"Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues for anchoring tonight’s CBC Special Order on Student Loans. 
"Access to quality education is the basis of the American Dream. In 1965, the Higher Education Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson – a former rural school house teacher – who fully understood that education is the greatest equalizer. Since then, federal student financial aid in this country has been a springboard that gives hard working students with low to moderate income the opportunity to realize their goals and transcend economic status. 
"The Federal Pell Grant program helps more than 9 million students get to and through college. Unfortunately, while Pell Grants used to cover a significant portion of tuition, currently, it pays for less than one-third of a student’s tuition at most four year public colleges. Given rising tuition costs and the decline in family incomes, the importance of student financial aid has only increased with time. 
"The cost of college tuition in the US has increased more than 1,000 percent since the 1980s. This is more than the growth in the consumer price index. As a result, the success of our graduates is being hampered by mounting student debt. Two - thirds of college seniors who graduated in 2011 accumulated an average of more than $26,000 in student loan debt. And I am increasingly concerned about New Jersey graduates, who hold the 10th highest debt among college students in our nation. 
"And while the cost of an education rises and the amount of student debt skyrockets, young people struggle to find work.  They’ve done everything we’ve told them to do – they’ve worked hard and received an education, but unemployment for young college graduates remains high at 8.8 percent. 
"So as our graduates dream of making it on their own, they are forced to put their lives on hold, move back home with their parents, and pinch pennies to pay off a mountain of debt. 
"Yet, knowing all of this, my Republican colleagues have been working overtime to exacerbate this problem and make college even less affordable. The 2014 budget eliminates mandatory funding for Pell Grants and freezes the maximum grant for 10 years, while also cutting eligibility. And as of July 1, 2013, federal student loan rates are set to double.
"Instead of adopting efforts to keep interest rates low for young people in a volatile economic environment, my Republican colleagues have introduced a bill and are voting on it this week that can increase rates far beyond this July increase. As I like to call it “The Making College More Expensive Act.”
"Right now, student loan interest rates are fixed at 3.4 percent, meaning a student pays about $4,000 in interest payments on a 5-year loan.  If we do nothing and let the interest rate expire this July, rates will double to 6.8 percent and a student will pay nearly $9,000 – more than double – in interest on that same 5-year loan.  Now, if we do what the Republicans want us to do and pass their bill this week -- student loan interest rates will skyrocket to an estimated 7.4 percent, and this same student would pay $10,000 in interest. 
"In other words, if we do absolutely nothing, it would be better than if we pass this bill proposed by House Republicans. Now I’m not suggesting that we do nothing. This body must act.  But it is a sad reality when doing nothing is better than going along with what Republicans are pushing. Rather than invest in the future leaders and entrepreneurs of America, they propose to balance the budget on the backs of low to moderate income students.  I fear that by ignoring a generation buried under debt, we will cripple this country’s future. 
"Throughout our history, the opportunities afforded to people of various backgrounds have built this nation, creating a large and thriving middle class. Access to education has been the catalyst to this growth. As we look to our future, it is critical that we place education at the forefront of our plans for success. We can start by stopping the doubling of student loan interest rates, and by once again making a college education affordable for all of those who want one.
"Thank you, I yield back the balance of my time."