Wednesday, June 29, 2016

AFL-CIO Switches Endorsement From Meehan To Balchunis In PA-07-- How Affordable College Played Into The Dynamic


Two progressives who want America to invest in students

The AFL-CIO seems to take some kind of perverse pleasure in backing a handful of faux-moderate Republicans. In 2014 they put $8,740,384 into congressional campaigns and among House Republicans who received top level contributions were Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm (R-NY), Frank Lobiondo (R-NJ), David McKinley (R-WV), Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), David Joyce (R-OH), John Kline (R-MN), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Mike Turner (R-OH), Don Young (R-AK), Paul Cook (R-CA), Pat Meehan (R-PA), and Tim Murphy (R-PA). Most of these Republicans have been anti-union and anti-working family, just slightly less virulent about it than most of their colleagues.

Pennsylvania conservative Pat Meehan, for instance, got $4,000 from the AFL-CIO last cycle (as well as their endorsement). This year, the AFL-CIO had had enough of Meehan's anti-worker votes and they not only refuse dot endorse him, they have endorsed Mary Ellen Balchunis, his progressive opponent. It wasn't just Meehan's pro-TPP stand that motivated the switch. Meehan always seems to get involved with things after they're already a disaster-- like the big SUNOCO layoffs in the district and the VA hospitals mess in the area. Once it was on the front page and already a long-festering disaster, Meehan jumped in, not early on when he could have helped prevent it from turning into a crisis. In 2014, Mary Ellen participated in the Crozier Chester nurses strike and this year she walked with the Verizon strikers. She doesn't just talk the talk they way Meehan does when he's trying to masquerade as mainstream; she actually walks the walk. This month the Pennsylvania's AFL-CIO not only endorsed her, they did it unanimously! One of the issues where she differs drastically with Meehan but that endeared her to Pennsylvania unions was her approach to student loans. We asked her to explain the differences to DWT readers and tio help us understand what she would do about it in Congress. Below is her guest post.

Getting A Handle On Runaway Student Debt
-by Mary Ellen Balchunis,
congressional candidate, PA-07

As a University Professor and mother of a college junior I see the hardship that college students are dealing with every single day. The rising costs of higher education has negatively affected not only our students’ wallets, but also their will to learn as they struggle to deal with everyday expenses while simultaneously being charged exorbitant amounts of money in student loans, ever-­increasing school supply costs, the substantial growth in their cost of living.

While some students either have the benefit of scholarships, or are fortunate to have parents with the means to pay for their education, most do not. Those who take out student loans become indebted for the next thirty years as they attempt to pay back their educational expenses-- expenses that may not have even guaranteed them a job. Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among approximately 43 million borrowers. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year.

There has been progress made on this front. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act was passed a few years ago. It did many things to take a bit of the pressure off of future students. It increased the level of Pell Grants and changed the direct administration of loans from private financial institutions to the federal Department of Education. This took money out of the banks' pockets and put some money into federal coffers.

The Act also took years off the final payment period to pay back loans. For new borrowers after 2014, their loans would eligible to be forgiven after making timely payments after 20 years ­ five years earlier than previously. Additionally, those that go into public service will be allowed to have their debt forgiven after ten years, if payments have been made on time. These are important benefits that will help thousands of borrowers in the future.

Finally, and again for post­-2014 borrowers, they can choose an Income Based Repayment plan (IBR) and would pay no more than 10 percent of their income above a basic living allowance ­ reduced from 15 percent. The basic living allowance is set at 150 percent of the poverty line, currently equaling about $16,500 for an individual and $33,000 for a family of four.

All of these positive actions only help new loan recipients. However, no action has been taken to help the hundreds of thousands of people that already have student loans and are crushed under significant debt loads. Elizabeth Warren's The Bank On Student Emergency Loan Refinancing Act is the only piece of legislation that attempts to lighten the load for those currently under financial duress from their student loans. The proposed Act would allow people with student loan debt at fixed percentage interest rates ­ which most are at seven percent or above ­ to be able to re­finance their loans at much lower interest current rates that new applicants now are eligible for. Recent student loans have been disbursed at rates as low as 3.86 percent.

Thousands and thousands of borrowers have unnecessarily paid tens of millions of dollars cumulatively because they are unable to refinance their school loans. Of course, we all know that we can refinance home loans. For the vast majority of us, a home is the largest purchase will if every make. With tuition and other college costs still rising significantly, the cost of college degree, let alone any advanced degrees, will be the biggest expense that people will have. Many won't be able to buy a house because they have to spend so much money on paying back the loans for their education.

This negatively effects our national economy as well as prevents the United States from being intellectually competitive on a global scale, as the rising costs of education deter those who once dreamed of a better life through a college education now looking elsewhere for opportunity. The national debt for a college education places the United States significantly behind countries that either subsidize or have free college education on economic basis.

There is too much money being paid into student debt that could be going into the general consumer economy. Of course, paying money into the housing stock through a home purchase is much worthwhile and sustainable than paying money into a decades-­old student loan.

Further, making this important change would cut down the default rate on federal student loans, which one study recently listed that rate at 43%. This also has a negative effect on our national economy and on thousands of households.

Simultaneously there are many different kinds of student loans and student scholarships that are almost unknown to the average American college student, causing debt without the guidance from universities or other academic bodies to show the opportunities their students are available to students. While there hasn’t been a substantial increase in Professors or administrators there has been a significant increase in adjunct or part­-time professors which forces an increase in college costs which raises the cost of tuition. In fact, the average increase in college tuition at both private and public institutions has been more than covering the cost of inflation from the period of 1975-­2015.

Similarly the cost of out­-of­-state and in-­state tuition at national universities has so drastically increased that there the curve on the chart below is closer to an exponential one than a standard growth rate.

Unfortunately, as we know, the Republicans in Congress stopped this important legislation. It is vital that we elect a U.S. House and Senate that will pass legislation that lightens the burden on our students and the next generation. The next generation of students are equally, if not more, important to our economy and our leadership, so there must be legislation to help everyday Americans who go to school to get ahead.

That is why when I am elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, I will fight to improve student funding policy and to pass legislation that empowers students to earn a quality education, at a cost that won’t leave them paying student loans as expensive as a home mortgage. We need to truly ask ourselves if we are a nation that values education, intelligence, innovation, and creativity enough to make academic education and other training programs a priority, and pass legislation that reflects that.
Mary Ellen won her hard-fought primary against a DCCC corporate shill by a landslide, 74-26%, and the DCCC's response was to remove PA-07 from contention. Pelosi and his cronies have refused to endorse Mary Ellen and have urged Democratic donors to ignore her campaign, which is why it was especially heartening to see the AFL-CIO tell Pelosi, Israel and Lujan to go jump in a lake. The local SEIU and AFSCME locals have also endorsed her campaign and this week the Congressional Progressive Caucus did as well. Blue America is urging our members to chip in for Mary Ellen by tapping the thermometer below.
Goal Thermometer

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