Democratic lawmakers push for higher education legislation

 During the100th General Assembly, House Democrats have introduced a series of bills to increase financial assistance and opportunities for higher education students. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have supported these measures and passed a student debt relief bill of their own.

House Democrats successfully passed through both chambers, HB 3211, a bill that aims to inform low-income students of their potential eligibility for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill currently awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner’s approval to become law.

Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford, sponsor of the bill, said it will be funded with federal dollars.

 “We have a number of students in Illinois who are food insecure. This is to try to remove one more social barrier to them completing their degrees,” Wallace said.

The bill requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to notify higher education institutions of students who might be eligible to receive SNAP benefits. Eligibility requirements would be determined by the Department of Human Services. The bill passed the Senate May 25 on a 50 to 1 vote.

Meanwhile, the Senate introduced its own bill to relieve student loan debt. Sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, it creates the Student Loan Servicing Rights Act.

The bill passed the Senate May 10 with 34 to 15 votes. The bill was then sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, and passed the House May 31 with 63 to 48 votes. The bill now awaits action by Rauner.  
Sen. Biss said students are sometimes not fully information by student loan servicers when they apply for loans, often choosing more expensive options.

“Right now student loans are serviced by private companies,” Biss said. “Borrowers don’t get the full information, so they charge unreasonable fees.”

The bill consists of three main components. First, it creates a student loan bill of rights that instructs how student loan servicers should interact with borrowers. Second, the bill creates a Student Loan Ombudsman within the Attorney General’s office to provide assistance to student borrowers. Finally, it allows the Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation to investigate student loan servicer licenses.

Other House bills include HB 2394, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero. It would allow students who meet Illinois residency requirements to be eligible for state scholarships and grants, regardless of their legal status. The bill also prohibits any higher education institution from denying financial assistance to someone who has been convicted of a drug offense, if the person otherwise qualifies for it. Introduced on Feb. 6, HB 2394 has since been stalled in the House.

The house also introduced the College Affordability Act, which aims to retain students in Illinois by providing financial assistance and loan debt relief.

HB 1316 has four representatives as chief cosponsors, including Lou Lang, D-Skokie, Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, and Chris Welch, D-Hillside.

The bill requires the Student Assistance Commission to create three college affordability programs that would be administered by ISAC, including the College Affordability Fund, Work-study Fund, and the College Affordability Purchasing Fund, which would begin in the 2018-2019 school year.

These programs would provide grants to low-income freshman seeking a degree in Illinois, provide work-study for the grants’ recipients, and require the Student Assistance Commission to buy-out student private loan at a zero percent interest rate. The bill passed the House and is awaiting Senate action.  

Contact Debby Hernandez at

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