With student loan debt at an all-time high and the cost of certain federal student loans set to get even more expensive, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) announced efforts to make an affordable education available to southeast Queens students.
In May, outstanding student loans surpassed the nation’s credit card debt when the total hit $1 trillion, and according to the Institute for College Access & Success, the average New Yorker from the class of 2010 graduated with about $26,000 in debt. Interest rates on federal Stafford ?loans, for students with financial needs, are scheduled to increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent if Congress does not act to extend the reduced rate when it expires July 1.
“If we don’t do anything, Stafford loans — school loans — will go up, will double, putting a burden on these students that is unbelievable,” Meeks said alongside education advocates at his Jamaica office Monday.
In addition to discussing his support for the effort to maintain student loan interest rates, the congressman also said he had scheduled a town hall meeting, “A Call to Action: Know the Options on Student Loan Debt,” next month at York College to hear from students and put them in contact with education finance experts.
Jennifer Ching, director of Queens Legal Services, said the nonprofit sees about 10,000 people every year with some type of debt problem and compared the increase in student loan debt to the consumer credit and foreclosure crises that hurt southeast Queens.
“Student loan debt is, just as with all other forms of debt in this country, disproportionately distributed against low-income and communities of color and targets of predatory lending,” she said, pointing out that for-profit educational institutions and unsavory lenders target students in much the same way that southeast Queens homeowners were targeted with subprime mortgages.
A graduate of Harvard University and New York University’s law school, Ching said it took her two decades to pay back nearly $290,000 in debt, and at times she had to pay out close to $4,000 a month.
“These past 20 years have been what I call, and my family affectionately calls, the Ramen [noodle] years,” she joked, adding that allowing interest rates to double, on top of other increases to the cost of living and a depressed job market, make post-graduate life a struggle.
“You simply cannot live,” she said. “It’s about leveling the playing field for our clients and our communities.
Meeks said lawmakers are butting heads over how to fund the lower interest rates. Republicans, he said, are insistent on cuts to women’s health care, which he called a “non-starter.” Meeks suggested as an alternative finding savings in other programs or raising revenues.
His town hall meeting is scheduled for June 13 at 5:30 p.m. in the Faculty Dining Room at York College, at 94-20 Guy R. Brewer Blvd.