Nov. 18 and 19 may affect college students for the rest of their lives. As Congress considers House Resolution 609, which would add $5,800 to the average student debt by cutting $9 billion from federal student loans, the financial future of those attending or planning on attending college is in jeopardy.
HR 609, if passed, will be the largest budget cut in education history, according to Studentaidaction.com. The bill will increase student loan interest rates from 6.8 percent to 8.25 percent.
On Sept. 24, student body President Maxon Victor and Vice President Sameer Ahmed flew to Washington, D.C., to persuade Congress not to pass the bill.
“Overall, how accessible are we making college?” Victor said. “It is becoming less possible for students who really need it.”
According to USF student lobbyist Silverlee Hernandez, the resolution concerns college loan rates for students nationwide.
The proposed budget will also put a $6,000 cap on Pell Grants, according to the United States Student Association. According to Victor, the average fixed cost of Pell Grants for public institutions has been cut in half in the past 20 years, from 84 to 42 percent.
“This is a sour turn for all universities,” Victor said.
Passing a bill such as HR 609 will only discourage students from going to college, he said.
Since 2004 when the bill was proposed, students have been rallying together to stop its passage.
“It is so big that every university in Florida is lobbying this,” Hernandez said.According to Victor, a representative from every public state university, except the University of Florida and New College, were in attendance at the Capitol.
The Florida Student Association met with 15 different members of Congress to voice their opposition to the bill. After the meetings, Victor said he was disappointed, having spoken to more assistants than actual Congressional leaders.
“They knew that we were coming. We went to 10 offices, and only four of the Congress members met with us,” Victor said.
Of the four he met with, Victor said he was told that Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq have put higher-education issues such as HR 609 on the backburner. Higher education is not a priority in Congress, Victor said.
Still, Congressmen such as Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., supported the students by opposing HR 609.
“Senator Kucinich has become our point man,” Hernandez said.
Kucinich has organized student body presidents across Florida, encouraging them to write letters to Congress explaining why HR 609 should not be passed in order to discourage voting the bill through, Victor said.
According to Victor, House member Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said he wanted HR 609 to pass because many people living in Florida are small business owners and this bill would give tax cuts to people making more than $200,000.
Supporters of HR 609 claim Pell Grants would increase by $200 over the next six years. The proposed cap on Pell Grants does not take inflation into consideration, Victor said.
Last year, tuition increased by 10.5 percent at four-year universities and 8.7 percent at community colleges, according to Studentaidaction.com. To offset potential budget cuts, colleges have been raising tuition costs.
Victor, along with the FSA, also lobbied to get tax-free textbooks.
“Our tuition is tax-free, so why shouldn’t our textbooks be?” Victor asked. “Students are always at the bottom of the barrel and we always get the short end of the stick.”
If passed, HR 609 will also make budget cuts to health care, veterans funding, food stamps and cut $10 billion from Medicare.