Five members of the Georgetown University College Democrats spoke with a legislative aide of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) about student loan reform at the Hart Senate Office Building last Friday morning.
The group, comprised of Aditya Pande (SFS ’18), Tracey Zhang (SFS ’17), Matt Schneider (COL ’18), Tonisha Lewis (COL ’18) and Leo Zucker (SFS ’17), met with Ariel Evans, a labor legislative assistant in Murray’s office.
The group mainly discussed the Financial Aid Simplicity and Transparency Act, which was introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) in June 2014. The act would eliminate the current Free Application for Financial Student Aid by consolidating the application into two questions, notifying families of how much they will receive in financial aid earlier in the loan process and reducing the six different federal loan programs into three.
Schneider said that the group agreed with the decision of condensing and increasing transparency of the act.
“We approve that the FAFSA application form should be shortened,” Schneider said. “We also talked about how the increased transparency part of the act is important.”
Pande noted that the elimination of the FAFSA provision was perhaps the most important point included in the FAST act, as it would allow for greater usage of the federal aid program for countless more citizens.
“Two million people who could have applied for Pell grants last year didn’t,” Pande said. “It’s a hundred question form — there are some redundancies. It needs simplification.”
While the advocacy group agreed that the first two provisions of the FAST act were important, they disagreed with the third part of the act, which would eliminate three of the federal loan programs and limit the amount that students could borrow from $57,000 to $37,000.
“We expressed our concerns with things that FAST doesn’t address or would have negative consequences on students,” Zhang said. “By eliminating a bunch of student loan programs … we actually end up decreasing the borrowing limit for student loans by $20,000.”
According to the students, Evans concurred with many of the points were brought up during the 20-minute interview.
However, the FAST act faces an uphill battle to be passed. The advocacy group suggested that there is a one percent chance of the bill being passed outright.
Schneider said that he was hopeful that elements of the bill could be added to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which provides federal aid, as a compromise.
“While it may not be likely that we get the FAST act passed, the things the FAST act stands for can be put into that reform,” Schneider said. “[They should] incorporate elements of the bill, essentially increased transparency and increased simplification.”
The advocacy group first decided to meet with an aide from Murray’s office, as she is the ranking Democratic member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees the drafting of the bill.
To set up the meeting, Zhang asked a few of her friends, who are Murray’s constituents, to request a conference with an aide.
“We put together a list of democratic senators on the committee who might be interested in hearing what we had to say about the bill,” Lewis said. “Senator Murray was the ranking democratic member of the [HELP] committee, so we reached out to her.”
After arriving at the Hart Building an hour early, the group was able to tour the hallways and take pictures inside. Pande noted that they were impressed by the trip and that more groups should try to talk to their congressmen to make changes.
Pande also said that while most students do not believe they have influence on public policy, they should still reach out to policymakers.
“It’s equivalent to voting. If you think your vote doesn’t make a difference, then nothing will ever change,” Pande said. “So, you should do things that may possibly make a difference.”
Tracey agreed with Pande, explaining that students generally think that major policy decisions happen behind closed doors and out of reach for the typical citizen. However, the group felt that they made a difference by reaching out to Murray’s office.
“This was a really good opportunity for [us] to partake in and we hope to advocate for more national issues,” Tracey said. “Especially considering that we are here in D.C., we have so much access.”