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Virginia lawmakers to address ‘student debt crisis’

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RICHMOND, Va.  Two Democratic members of the Virginia General Assembly said Monday they plan to sponsor legislation to address what they described as a “student debt crisis.”

Del. Marcus Simon and Sen. Janet Howell, both of Northern Virginia, said the state needs new laws to regulate student debt and let students refinance their loans under certain circumstances.

The legislators said reviving the Virginia Education Loan Authority, a state body that was liquidated in the late 1990s, would help address the problem.

“This is not a program that is going to forgive or erase anybody’s student debts,” said Simon. “But just like any other loan … when interest rates fall, we should have the opportunity as consumers to refinance that debt. I think student loan holders ought to have that same opportunity.”

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Howell plans to introduce a similar but separate proposal for a “student loan navigator program.” It would “serve as a one-stop shop for students looking to finance college and borrowers trying to figure out how to pay back their existing loans.”

“The only people who benefit from a confusing and opaque student loan industry are corporations who make money off of student borrowers,” Howell said.

One such borrower is Fairfax resident Meghan Blydenburgh, who owes more than $60,000 because of compounding student debt.

Blydenburgh said that it would have been nice to have had such guidance when she was 18 and needed advice about funding her education.

Blydenburgh, Howell and Simon spoke at a conference call arranged by the advocacy group ProgressVA. The General Assembly will convene Jan. 13 for a 60-day session.
Asked about the funding for programs to tackle student debt, the legislators said that after initial costs, the Student Loan Authority should be able to pay for itself using received interest from refinanced loans.

Republicans also are concerned about the issue.

Matthew Moran, spokesman for Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell of Stafford, declined to discuss the specific proposals being drafted by Simon and Sen. Howell. However, Moran said, “The House of Delegates recognizes the need to tackle this challenge head on and will continue to lead the way in doing so.”

Moran listed other recent legislation that sought to lessen student debt by controlling the cost of higher education.

By Matt Chaney
Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of the VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.