STAFF & GUEST BLOG

The Congressman Proposing Change

June 27th, 2012, bySean Nixon

Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) is proposing loan debt reform Photo: U.S. House of Representatives

With the economy still reeling from the Great Recession, many Americans are scraping by on lowered wages and, sadly, lowered prospects. With everything from car notes, housing payments, food and basic necessities, asking Americans to pay on their student loans right now can be a tall order.

If you haven’t heard by now, loan debt in America has reached $1 trillion. And while bankruptcy may have been a welcomed answer for many Americans, according to current laws, many cannot receive approval for it.

In my last post, I talked with Robert Applebaum about the near 1 million signatures he’s helped to acquire to get lawmakers to further work on loan forgiveness. So, my next step was to reach out to one of the lawmakers and hear some ideas on how to get the measure passed in Congress. Here’s my exchange with Rep. Hansen Clarke, of Detroit, about the bill he’s been working on to reduce the repayment process that saddles most Americans.

NIXON: Where did the idea for this bill come from and what’s the number one thing you would like to see this bill accomplish once passed?

CLARKE: Over the past few years, I’ve met more and more people in my community who have college degrees, but lack financial security. They have the diploma to hang on their wall, but they lack the means to support their family and pay the interest on their debt. This is because the cost of getting a college degree has increased at a far greater rate than wages over the last decade. Tuition rates rose 72% at public universities between 2001 and 2011. People of all ages, from all walks of life are drowning in student debt. And, our national economy is suffering as a consequence. People are putting off major purchases and investments, which is stifling job creation. My objective with this bill is to make student loan repayment more simple and fair and to give people more purchasing power in order to jumpstart the economy.

NIXON: How have your peers in Congress responded to this bill? How difficult do you believe it will be to gain consent and cooperation from other members on the House on this bill?

CLARKE: We so far have 16 Congressional co-sponsors on the bill, and, while it’s all Democrats at this point, I feel confident that we will convince our friends on the other side of the aisle to join this movement. The 975,000 signatories on the national petition for this bill come from many different political persuasions. When it comes to this issue, I believe both Democrats and Republicans want the same thing: for Americans to be well-educated and free from the shackles of debt. This bill provides a responsible way to help realize that vision. It requires that borrowers pay 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years before receiving forgiveness.

NIXON: The city of Detroit is working hard to stabilize and grow its economy. Have you heard from your own constituents on this issue of student loan debt? And secondly, how impactful would a bill like H.R. 41 be for citizens of the area?

CLARKE: Thousands of people in Metro Detroit who don’t have a college degree are still struggling with student loan debt. The people who took non-degree courses or had to leave school for one reason or another are often those who are struggling most with the weight of this debt. I meet these folks, as well as struggling graduates, every week in Michigan’s 13th district, and I hear about financial situations that could be transformed by this assistance.

NIXON: Given the nation’s current economic outlook, how critical is it to ensure that this bill is passed, as it relates to Americans’ ability to start families, a new business, buy a home, etc. and not have to worry about student loan debt?

CLARKE: It’s critical. The only way we can get out of this recession is by ensuring that working people have more purchasing power. We took several months to hear from education experts, activists and—most importantly—struggling students and graduates in order to develop the plan that ultimately became the Student Loan Forgiveness Act. The process started this past September, and the bill was finalized in late January.

NIXON: Some people are skeptical of politicians who show up and claim they are on the people’s side on certain issues. However, you’ve gone to, arguably, some of the best schools in the country, and you work in the public sector; so, there’s a sense that you understand the economic frustrations people are facing on this issue. What could you say to a constituent to give them an idea that you are more than familiar with the economic strains of higher education costs and student loan debt?

CLARKE: I took out loans to attend school back in the ’80s, during a time when universities were far more affordable and loans were much more manageable. My passion in dealing with this issue comes from talking with people in my community—ranging from retirees in their 80s to teachers in their 20s—who are struggling with student loan debt right now. It comes from seeing motivated, talented young people in my community given no choice but to accrue massive debt in order to get an education. We don’t want our young people in that situation. You can join the movement by signing our online petition and asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor the bill. All the information you’ll need is available at HR4170.com. We are so inspired by the grassroots movement for a student loan solution!

You heard it here folks. By most estimates, it appears Rep. Clarke is off and running. Those interested in learning more about HR4170 can visit the website.

  • Michele dixon

    Hi- I have tons in private student loans- as of this month I cant pay them- they raised my payment and refuse to work with me on lowering them- a lot of people are in the same boat as me and we need help!

  • Alice

    Not only does Hansen Clarke “get it” , but he articulates it better than I do because he has, as a Congressman, been asked for help and relief from intractable, impossible student loan debt by hundreds, while I have only lived my own life under the crushing weight of the debt, and he represents that point of view.

    What the average reader frequently does not understand is the runaway compound interest on these student loans and very limited options for repayment alternatives or They have become like payday loans. They have been structured to benefit the lender in a slanted I think the fair and reasonable plan for affordable repayment of student loans that is found in HR 4170 is wonderful. I have done everything I can to support it. I am frustrated that Congress will not debate this issue right now, being an election year, because each month that goes by is urgent. I sincerely hope that Clarke wins his primary in August so that his important student loan reform work will continue.

Last modified: July 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm