More government mac n’ cheese

The day after the health care bill passed in the House was possibly the most annoying day in the history of days. Everyone, seemingly for the first time, cared about it deeply and expressed their views via Twitter and Facebook and annoying conversations on the bus. But very few people could tell you the full name of the bill.

Well, here it is – the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act. What was once the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, the centerpiece of Obama’s educational platform, was folded into the health care bill by amendment, probably in order to garner support for the health care bill.

In its original form, the education bill would have been filibustered by senate Republicans, but after minor modifications, the bill became essentially bulletproof, which is to say, a bulletproof vest for the much more vulnerable health care half of the bill.

No one in Congress, especially not Democrats, wants to vote against education if they can avoid it, and tagging on this bill likely brought on board some Blue Dogs who had previously leaned against health care reform.

Perhaps the best part about the Reconciliation Act is that at least the education half of the bill is entirely free. It spends no money.

Rather, it redirects subsidies out of the hands of private lenders, money which they never needed in the first place, since student loans have always been guaranteed by the government anyway, and puts it into things like, for instance, Pell Grants.

Many didn’t realize that Pell Grants were about to run out of money. 8 million students would have been left without Pell grant assistance in 2011 without this bill. Now, those of us who depend on these grants in order to make it through the year can look forward to an actual increase in the maximum grant to $5500 beginning in July of this year, and $5975 in the next seven years. Poor juniors whose parents have finally cut them off will be eating less 12-cent ramen and more of that swanky 33-cent mac ‘n cheese. Mmm. And no taxpayer had to give up a dime.

In directing money away from the student loan lenders, the Act essentially eviscerates the entire industry, which was previously a source of easy money for private lenders for years. Now, in addition to more grants, loans come directly from the government. Repayment is also made easier reducing the monthly payment maximum to 10 percent of discretionary income. And while you’d think this would extend the amount of time it takes to repay loans – and it will for some – nevertheless after 20 years the remaining balance can be forgiven.

While Utah’s college students stand to gain a great deal, Utah legislators and loan servicers are up in arms. The fate of loan servicers like the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority, who have helped to make Utah’s loan repayment rate the highest in the nation, is unclear. UHEAA is non-profit and therefore is interested only in making sure that loans are paid off as quickly, and therefore with as little interest, as possible.

Hopefully an exemption can be made for non-profit servicers like UHEAA. But even if not, students will have an easier time getting the education they need.

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