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Student Aid Bill Amended To Bring More Federal Money To Maine

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Yesterday Congresswoman Chellie Pingree introduced two amendments to the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) (H.R. 3221). The amendments were accepted as part of the bill today, which then passed the House by a vote of 253-171.

The bill is the single largest investment in history to help students and families pay for college--and at no cost to taxpayers. It will expand access to an affordable college education to more American students, transform early education opportunities, and build a world-class community college system.

"This is a crucial step toward rebuilding the Maine economy," Pingree said. "It will help make sure young people have the ability to attend college or get career training, and that our work force remains the most highly skilled, cutting-edge and effective in the world."

The bill reforms the system of federal student loans by converting loans to the stable, cost-efficient Direct Loan program. By making these direct loans instead of through taxpayer-subsidized lenders, an estimated $87 billion will be saved over 10 years. $10 billion of the savings will go toward deficit reduction and the remaining $77 billion will be reinvested in education, with a focus on making college more affordable. The bill will increase Pell grants, lower student loan costs, simplify the loan process and invest billions of dollars in community colleges.

Pingree successfully amended the legislation to make sure all Maine community colleges will be eligible for approximately $5.9 million in funding to repair or renovate existing facilities and build new ones to accommodate more students. As the bill was originally written, colleges that had accepted Recovery Act money were not eligible for the new funding, which would have made it impossible for all but one community college in Maine to access that funding. Pingree's amendment lifted that prohibition.

Congresswoman Pingree also successfully added a provision that could bring significant new investment to K-12 schools in the Brunswick area. The legislation invests $4 billion over two years in K-12 education across the country, with $200 million set aside for areas suffering from severe economic distress or affected by natural disasters. Pingree amended the bill to include areas affected by base closings in this category. This amendment means Brunswick area schools would also be eligible for a share of this special set-aside fund, due to the pending closure of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. (The closure of BNAS will reduce the Brunswick public school population by 10% and reduce school funding by $1 million.)

Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller praised Pingree for her work on the amendment. "I want to thank Congresswoman Pingree for offering this amendment," Miller said on the floor of the House. "I know how hard she has worked on this problem and the impact that a BRAC closure can have on a community."

The bill will make college more affordable and help more Maine students graduate. Some of the provisions will:

· Invest nearly $140 million over ten years in increased Pell Grant scholarships in Maine, increasing the scholarship from $5,350 today to $6,900 in 2019. In Maine, 23,000 Maine students will be eligible for Pell Grant awards next year.

· Invest $750,000 a year for five years in programs designed to help Maine students get into college and complete their degrees.

· Keep interest rates low for the 35,000 Maine students who get federal student loans.

· Simplify the FAFSA student aid form for all Maine students and their families.

"This commonsense reform is long overdue, and I'm proud to join President Obama and my Democratic colleagues in standing up for the American taxpayer by eliminating billions in waste, while at the same time dramatically expanding access to essential educational opportunities," Congresswoman Pingree said. "With tuition costs at both public and private colleges on the rise even as families struggle through a difficult economy, I'm thrilled we could come together to expand critical opportunities for higher education in this country."

The bill now goes on to the Senate for consideration.

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