Sen. Kelly Ayotte: My record of standing up for students

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte high-fives Nicholas Gelinas after he threw the ball at the dunking booth that dropped her into the tank during Old Home Days in Loudon on Aug. 13. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 9/20/2016 12:05:07 AM

As someone who put myself through law school and paid off student loans, I know what it’s like to plan your finances around your debt and work to pay it off. That’s why I’m so disappointed that outside, third-party special interest groups that are backing Gov. Maggie Hassan are continuing their misleading and false attacks on my record of working to make college more affordable and accessible for students and families in our state.

While students across New Hampshire head back to school, I want to make sure they know how hard I’m fighting for them – despite the false ads they might see on TV.

First, these groups are falsely claiming that I cut Pell Grants, a need-based program that helps students pay for college. That simply isn’t true, and it’s even been independently fact-checked and called “inaccurate.” We should do everything in our power to help low-income students afford a higher education, and I support the Pell Grant program. I’ve even co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Tim Kaine to allow students to use their Pell Grants for short-term skills programs, giving them more flexibility about the kinds of education they want to pursue. Additionally, I’ve been a leader in the fight to preserve the Perkins Loan program, which nearly 5,000 low-income New Hampshire students rely on – which we were able to renew at the end of last year after it expired in September. I have also worked to expand 529 college savings plans, which allow families to start saving early for higher education.

Second, contrary to what Gov. Hassan’s out-of-state allies are claiming, I have worked to lower interest rates, and I have a bipartisan record to prove it. A couple of years ago, when interest rates were set to double for students and borrowers, I helped introduce legislation in 2013 that would prevent drastic hikes like that. By tying interest rates for new student loans to the 10-year Treasury note, a stable economic indicator, we hoped to give students long-term certainty to plan for their financial futures.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle then came together to introduce and pass the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, which included provisions I pushed to reduce interest rates. We’re already seeing the positive effects of this legislation – on July 1st, interest rates for new student loans dropped, which will save students across the nation more than $50 billion in interest payments. That’s the kind of progress we need to help New Hampshire students achieve their dreams of a higher education without ruining their financial futures.

After college, we need to ensure that graduates and young people are able to make plans for their financial future without being overwhelmed by their student loan debt. That’s why I introduced a bill – the Student Loan Relief Act – which would allow certain borrowers to refinance their student loans at interest rates lower than the federal rate, reducing monthly payments and giving graduates more flexibility with their finances. Contrary to what Gov. Hassan’s third-party backers say, I support allowing students to refinance their loans in the same way you’d refinance your mortgage or car loan – all of which are done with proper protections and support.

I’m also supporting legislation like the Repay Act, which would streamline all the income-based repayment options out there in order to simplify and provide more clarity for borrowers. Another great bill I’ve co-sponsored is the Employer Participation in Refinancing Act, which would allow employers to use pre-tax dollars to help their employees pay down debt.

The bottom line is simple. I want to make sure New Hampshire students, parents and families can look at a school like UNH or Dartmouth or Keene State or Saint Anselm and know that it’s within their reach. I’ll do everything in my power to help our children achieve their full potential by helping New Hampshire students afford their education and manage their finances after they graduate. No matter what Gov. Hassan’s special interest allies say, I will keep fighting for a better and more affordable education for all our young people.

(Kelly Ayotte, a Nashua Republican, represents New Hampshire in the United States Senate.)

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