Negotiations on health care reform have pushed virtually every other issue onto the U.S. Senate's back burners this fall. Though the House of Representatives acted two months ago to pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) -- which, among other provisions, stops funding the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program as of July 1, 2010 and makes the Department of Education the only lender of federal student loans -- the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has yet to take up the bill and any progress seems unlikely before health care comes to a floor vote. With the legislative timeline unclear, a panel of seven financial aid experts gathered Tuesday in Washington to consider the impact of the probable end of the FFEL program. Arguments shook down along predictable lines, with a representative of the federally subsidized lender Sallie Mae calling for the Senate to sustain a role for non-federal lenders (through an alternative proposal), and student and taxpayer advocates calling for the program's end. No word yet on when the HELP Committee will hold hearings on the bill. Also Tuesday, a coalition of about 50 student and other advocacy groups sent a letter urging senators to back the student loan legislation.
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