NEA interns lobby Senators on the student loan interest rate increase

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by Tim Reed/photo above by NEA intern Kate Jeszeck

Hundreds of students, including a number of NEA interns, visited Capitol Hill yesterday as part of Campus Progress’ Student Debt Day, to lobby their Senators on the looming student loan interest rate increase. If congress does not act by July 1st, the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford loans will double, adding to the economic burden of  low- and middle-income students who are eligible for the loans and can least afford to shoulder the increased economic stress.

Senator Tom Harkin with NEA intern Kate Jeszeck

The students first attended a press event with Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jack Reed (D-RI) before heading off to Capitol Hill to speak to their Senators and Senate staffers. After the event, Harkin took the time to speak with the NEA interns, and said he believes the possible debt increase is an effect of “election-year politics” and that a deal will be reached before the July 1 deadline, if only just.

NEA interns Daniela Najera and Sabella Salim met with staffers for Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. They confirmed the Senator’s commitment to maintaining lower rates, though Ayotte is more supportive of the Republican-backed proposal from Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), which would take money from President Obama’s Affordable Care Act to help fund the lower interest rate, than the Democrat-supported proposal from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), which would close loopholes for corporations that aren’t currently paying Social Security and payroll taxes.

NEA interns Sabella Salim and Daniela Najera, photos by Emily Stocks and Kate Jeszeck

“In New Hampshire, 74 percent of students leave college with debt, at an average of over $31,000,” said Najera. “That’s the highest debt burden for students in the country.” Salim says that although she doesn’t agree with Ayotte’s support for the Alexander proposal, she “came away with the impression that the Senator understands how the increase will affect students in her state and is willing to work toward a compromise.” Salim also left Capitol Hill with a letter from Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) stating his support for keeping student loan interest rates low and thanking activists for their support.

NEA intern Elizabeth Healey, photo by Kate Jeszeck

Elizabeth Healey, another NEA intern and student at the University of Utah, spoke with staffers for Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). While the Senator has not thrown his support behind any of the current plans to keep interest rates from doubling, his staffers say this is because he believes education funding is a state issue, rather than federal. Healey said that although she disagrees strongly with the Senator’s stance, “it was interesting to see their perspective and try to understand where they’re coming from.”

This was a recurring theme among the NEA interns who attended the event, including Michael Hart, Michael Salmeri, Dakotah Thompson, Tyler Earl, Emily Stocks and Kate Jeszezk, among others, who all said that regardless of where their Senators stand, it was an invaluable experience to see first-hand how politics work, and to make sure the voices of those who will be most affected by the rate increase are heard.

Click here to send an email telling Congress to act now to stop student loan interest rates from doubling.

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