The spending bill released late Monday night that funds federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year includes a provision, advocated by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), requiring the U.S. Department of Education to continue its contract with the Vermont Student Assistance Corp. (VSAC) and other nonprofit student loan servicers nationwide.
A provision in an earlier budget agreement, passed last month, could have affected Winooski-based VSAC by removing mandatory funding for the U.S. Department of Education to contract with nonprofit student loan servicers. In December, Welch in the House, and Leahy and Sanders in the Senate, initiated a bipartisan effort in the Senate and House to clarify that the language included in that budget agreement did not reflect the intent of Congress to terminate existing nonprofit contracts with the Education Department. The Omnibus Appropriations Bill that is expected to come to votes in the House and Senate sometime this week includes discretionary funds to continue existing contracts with VSAC and other nonprofit servicers.
Leahy, the most senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which handled the Senate's negotiations, led the effort in the work on the bill, on behalf of VSAC, with strong support from Sanders and Welch. Leahy said: "No student should be denied the opportunities of a college education because of her or his family's financial resources. Nonprofit loan servicers like VSAC serve as instrumental partners in guiding Vermont students through the complexities of financing their college educations. I continue to hear from students and adult learners across our state that VSAC's outreach counselors gave them the support system they needed to graduate. I am delighted we were able to make sure that the new spending bill will enable VSAC to continue to serve students in need."
Sanders said: "VSAC has successfully helped thousands of Vermont students and families manage the costs of college through counselling and financing. I am very pleased that our ongoing efforts to protect VSAC's critical role in our state will allow it to continue doing the excellent and important work it has done so well over the years."
Welch said: "Preserving VSAC's ability to make loans, and to continue to serve Vermonters, is a priority for the Vermont delegation. I am very pleased this bill also acknowledges what we know about VSAC and other non-profit lenders: they provide high quality customer service and efficiency at all points in the lending process."
"We at VSAC continue to be very grateful for the leadership and support that our delegation continues to provide," said Scott Giles, VSAC president and CEO. "VSAC is unique among state-based agencies because we provide, under one roof, a full range of services aimed at helping Vermonters navigate the complexity of educational choices and how to finance those plans, particularly for those who are low-income or the first in their family to continue on to postsecondary education."
The appropriations bill provision also requires the U.S. Department of Education to issue a report detailing an evaluation process for determining the fair allocation of additional loans on a competitive basis to nonprofit lenders like VSAC and other, larger loan servicers. That report will be due by the end of March.