Congress passes an extension to expired program

WASHINGTON – Congress passed an extension to the Perkins Loan Program this week, which expired Sept. 30 after more than 50 years of providing subsidized, low-interest loans to college students with financial need. The legislation now heads the White House for approval.

"Federal aid programs like the Perkins program exist so that low-income students are afforded the same opportunity to pursue higher education as their peers," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement. "I look forward to this extension becoming law."

Ayotte advocated for the extension before the Senate in September, and submitted a letter of support along with 20 senators, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

The Perkins Loan Program allows qualifying students to take out loans with a 5 percent fixed interest rate at certain colleges and universities. In New Hampshire alone, there are about 5,000 Perkins Loan recipients. There are nearly 500,000 recipients across the country.

The program has provided more than $28 billion in loans through nearly 26 million awards to students in all 50 states.

A previous extension to the program was attached to the Higher Education Extension Act of 2015, which originally failed to pass the Senate.

Chairman of the Senate education committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., advocated against the extension in favor of a more "streamlined" loan application process.

Alexander agreed on a compromise in the Perkins Loan Extension, which authorizes new Perkins loans for undergraduate students through September 2017.

Only graduate students who already have an existing Perkins loan will continue to receive them through September 2016. Students must also have to reach the borrowing limit on Stafford loans before receiving a Perkins loan.

"The agreement headed to the president’s desk today will extend the Perkins Program for two years – while giving Congress time to reach consensus on the best way to achieve that important goal in the next Higher Education Act re-authorization," Alexander said in a statement Friday.

"I’m glad to see that Congress has approved of the two year extension of the Perkins Loan Program. While I would have preferred to see the Senate pass the House-approved Higher Education Extension Act before the Perkins program expired, I am pleased that Chairman Alexander agreed to and that my colleagues in the Senate approved of this bipartisan compromise that provides opportunities to students who need it the most," Ayotte said.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 5946402, tforbes@nashuatelegraph. com or @Telegraph_ TinaF.