Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D) and Vermont Congressman Peter Welch (D) on Monday visited the Winooski, Vt., headquarters of the Vermont Student Assistance Corp. (VSAC) to highlight the nonprofit student lender for their efforts to provide Vermonters with the resources they need to pursue a higher education.
These continued efforts are made possible, in part, by a provision the delegation fought to preserve in the federal omnibus spending bill passed earlier this year by Congress that will allow the U.S. Department of Education to continue to work with nonprofit loan servicers, like VSAC. A provision in an early budget agreement, passed in December, could have affected VSAC by removing mandatory funding for the Department of Education to contract with nonprofit student loan servicers, like VSAC.
As the most senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy helped lead negotiations to preserve the role of nonprofit lenders, with strong support from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and Welch. In December, Leahy and Sanders in the Senate, and Welch in the House, initiated a bipartisan effort 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.
Due in large part to these efforts by the delegation, VSAC can continue to service loans to Vermonters seeking a brighter future, and the continued contract with the Department of Education will preserve approximately 100 jobs in the state.
The appropriations bill, signed into law by the President in January, will also increase funding levels for the essential VSAC programs TRiO, Talent Search and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP), while also increasing the maximum award for Pell Grants.
Meeting with VSAC's leaders and staff on Monday, Leahy and Welch spotlighted VSAC's value to Vermont. Leahy said: "Access to education is the platform upon which young Vermonters build their own American dream, and VSAC is an instrumental partner in guiding Vermonters through the complexities of financing their college education. I am delighted that we were able to ensure that VSAC will continue to serve students in need."
Welch said: "Thousands of Vermonters have benefited from the exceptional services provided by VSAC. This budget recognizes that role and preserves it for the next class of students and their families. The Vermont delegation will continue the fight to ensure VSAC remains a partner in putting a college education within reach for Vermonters."
In a statement, Sanders said: "Every year, VSAC helps manage the cost of college for thousands of Vermonters by providing grants, loans, scholarships, and career and education planning. Its services are particularly important for students who are the first in their family to go to college. I look forward to working with Senator Leahy and Congressman Welch to ensure VSAC continues to play an important role in helping Vermont students realize their dreams of attending college."
VSAC President and CEO Scott Giles said: "The Vermont delegation, led by Sen. Leahy, has been a driving force in securing additional funding for the crucial outreach programs that are at the heart of helping low-income and first generation students to continue their studies after high school. We at VSAC are grateful for their support and unwavering belief in our mission -- to ensure all Vermonters have the education and training they need to be successful in life."