Washington – Congress may have averted a government shutdown, but it failed to prevent the demise of the nation’s oldest student aid program, known as the Perkins loan.

Authority for the Perkins loan program expired at midnight on Wednesday, so beginning Thursday, Connecticut colleges – and schools across the nation – can no longer accept applications for the program, aimed at helping  low-income students when grants and other loans did not cover the cost of their education.

Dominic Yoia, director of financial aid at Quinnipiac University, said 273 of the university’s students took out Perkins loans this year, down from 492 last year. He said students who have applied for Perkins loans before the Sept. 30 deadline will receive their money. But there will be an impact in subsequent years, Yoia said.

“It’s been helpful for students that have been struggling and need an extra thousand dollars or two thousand dollars,” he said “Now we’ll be down a financial aid program.”

Michael Kozlowski, spokesman for Connecticut’s Board of Regents, said the state’s community colleges and Charter Oak State College don’t participate in the program, but the other schools in the Connecticut college system do, with about 600 students receiving the loans this year.

The House voted, without controversy, on Monday to extend the program.

But in the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the head of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, blocked consideration of legislation to reauthorize the program.

He thought the Perkins loans, inaugurated in 1958, were outdated and needed to be streamlined. He also thought the 5 percent interest charged on Perkins loans is too steep.

“Senator Alexander believes there are better options for low-income students, such as Pell grants,” and aide to the GOP senator said.

Most of Connecticut’s four-year colleges use the Perkins loan program, and President Obama wanted the program reauthorized.

But Congress has not provided funding for the program in about a dozen years.

With no new money of the program, Quinnipiac University has been doing what other schools were doing – making loans from the money that was available from students who had repaid their Perkins loans.

At the University of Connecticut, there’s been a steep decline in the amount of money loaned through the Perkins loan program, from about $4 million in the 2005-2006 school year to about $1.5 million in the 2012-2013 school year.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney:
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney: “… a shameful attack on needy students.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney: “… a shameful attack on needy students.”

But Democrats, including Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, argued this week there is a need to continue the program.

“While Congress narrowly managed to avert a full government shutdown yesterday…. Republican dysfunction has once again halted a critical federal program aimed to help the neediest students achieve the dream of college education,” Courtney said. “Playing politics with critical student loan aid in the midst of the school year is a shameful attack on needy students, and I urge Chairman Alexander and Senate Republicans to listen to the hundreds of thousands of students and families around the country who need the Perkins program reauthorized immediately.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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