WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call Wednesday with Ohio student Melanie Drews as part of his effort to address the growing problem of student loan debt.
Last week, Brown helped reintroduce the Debt-Free College Act, legislation that aims to reverse the growing student debt crisis in the United States.
Brown is also set to introduce legislation this week in an effort to help borrowers with growing student loan debt and to make college more accessible.
“Hard work can’t pay off if you’re drowning in college debt,” Brown said during the conference call. “(My wife) graduated from Kent State with a father who could afford virtually none of her tuition, room and board. She was the oldest of four and he had a union salary, but she worked part-time and graduated with relatively little debt; not much over $1,000.
“The idea that you could do that today without mountains of debt would be laughable if it weren’t one of the biggest economic problems facing the next generation.”
The Debt-Free College Act was first introduced in 2018 by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), but did not reach a vote in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Senators Brown, Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) were lead cosponsors of the bill, which aims to restore 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.
“States would get a one-to-one federal match for their state higher education appropriations in exchange for a commitment to help students pay for the full costs of attendance,” Brown said.
“The match would help cover the cost of tuition, room, board, books, supplies, and other expensives above the families’ expected maximum contribution without having to take on debt.”
Brown was joined on Wednesday’s conference call by Melanie Drews, a student at the University of Akron, who is working two jobs to pay for school.
“Education has always been extremely important to me,” Drews said. “When I lost my father early in my life and my mom was forced back into work, I knew that student loans would really be the only way for me to pay for college.”
Drews began her higher education career at Lorain County Community College. Thanks to Pell Grants, she was able to graduate with an associate degree without accruing any student loan debt.
“After taking some time off to start my career, I decided to head back to school,” Drews said. “I’m lucky enough to work for an employer who offers tuition reimbursement, but it only covers 75 percent of tuition and does not cover other expenses such as university fees, books, transportation, and needed equipment and software.
“For all these things, and the additional 25 percent of tuition, I’ve had to take out numerous student loans, which have an interest rate of over nine percent.”
On top of taking a full class load at the University of Akron, Drews said she has had to get a second job as a bartender in order to pay for these expenses.
Drews said she has also worked with College Now of Greater Cleveland to find scholarship assistance to help alleviate some of these costs.
“This legislation will help to support students who face even bigger challenges and financial setbacks to be able to not only further they education, but grow professionally and personally,” she said.
When asked how this bill would be funded, Brown described the legislation as a “public investment,” and suggested starting by “wiping away” President Trump’s tax cuts to the wealthy.
Also on Wednesday, Brown, along with Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Angus King (I-ME) introduced bipartisan legislation, called the Housing for Homeless Students Act, that would update current law to ensure students, including veterans, who have experienced homelessness or are currently homeless, can access affordable housing while pursuing their education.
The legislation would also benefit youth who age out of foster care who experience higher rates of homelessness and unemployment.
Right now, individuals pursuing full-time education are not eligible for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program and can lose access to scholarships and grants if they switch to part-time education in order to retain access to affordable housing.
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