The House Committee on Education and the Workforce Dec. 12 approved, 23-17, along party lines an amended version of the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act (H.R.4508) [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 7]. Committee members offered over 60 amendments to the legislation, extending debate on the bill for roughly 14 hours.
Prior to the mark up, the AAMC Chief Public Policy Officer Karen Fisher, JD, Dec. 11 sent a letter to the committee to call attention to the PROSPER Act’s proposed elimination of both PLUS loans for graduate and professional students (GradPLUS) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) for new borrowers. The letter points out that eliminating GradPLUS “will have a disproportionate impact on the neediest borrowers and non-traditional students” and that new borrowers would have to look to the private student loan market for additional support. The letter also expresses concern with the elimination of PSLF, noting that ending the program “would undermine support for vulnerable patients and non-profit medical facilities that use PSLF as a provider recruitment incentive.”
While the committee defeated the majority of amendments along party-line votes, a bipartisan group of members supported an amendment to preserve the federal PSLF program, but ultimately did not prevail on a vote of 20-19; Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) joined Democrats in support. The amendment, offered by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), would have preserved PSLF under the PROSPER Act’s ONE Loan program. The amendment also would have added PSLF eligibility for select farmers and veterans’ service organizations. The AAMC joined a higher education coalition letter in support of Rep. Courtney’s PSLF amendment.
Among the adopted amendments were two proposals related to the opioid epidemic. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) offered an amendment that would require the Secretary to identify and share best practices for higher education institutions that have programs to prevent substance use and support students in substance use recovery. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) offered an amendment that would require colleges and universities to adopt drug- and alcohol-abuse prevention programs that specifically address the opioid crisis.
The bill now awaits its turn on the House floor where press reports indicate that Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is hoping for action on H.R. 4508 “next year.” Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) mentioned in a recent hearing that the Senate plans to take action on HEA reauthorization early in 2018.