Connecticut Democrats urge quick action on student loans

Hartford — As Republicans and Democrats in Washington move toward a deal to keep rates low on a popular student loan program, Connecticut Democrats Monday urged quick action.

In five days, nearly 7.5 million college students across the country are slated to see the interest rates on their Stafford loans double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

The lower rate was established by Congress in 2007, but it is set to expire July 1.

Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, joined Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., at a press conference in Hartford urging Congress to “act now” to prevent the interest rate increase.

“The issue has been allowed to fester for far too long,” Courtney said.

He introduced legislation earlier this year to permanently cap the Stafford interest rate at 3.4 percent. Congress is considering only a one-year freeze.

The government watchdog U.S. Public Interest Research Group said students who borrow a maximum of $23,000 in subsidized loans would still see the amount of their interest balloon an additional $5,200 over a 10-year repayment period and $11,300 over a 20-year repayment period if Congress fails to act.

That would put college out of reach of many, Connecticut’s lawmakers said.

The average debt for a Connecticut student this year is $25,000.

DeLauro said a college education “is not just about a higher salary” after graduation.

“Eight out of 10 jobs are beyond the reach of workers who lack a post-secondary credential like an industrial certification or a college degree,” she said. “So, access to college is hugely important to be able to access this job market and ultimately achieve a living.”

Blumenthal said Congress’ delay “creates uncertainty and anxiety among students that discourage students from seeking higher education.”

Steve Petkis, a senior at the University of Connecticut and president of the student government, said students face increased pressure.

“The fear is real,” said Petkis, who said he owes about $20,000 in student loans.

He said he was disappointed at the ideological polarization in the Congress.

While both Republicans and Democrats want to avoid a doubling of interest on Stafford loans, there’s no agreement on how to make up for the $6 billion in lost income to the U.S. Treasury that would mean.

But Senate leaders from both parties last week said they are close to a compromise.