BEND, Ore. – Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., visited OSU-Cascades in Bend Thursday to talk about impending “drastic cuts” to Pell grants for students as he wrapped up a statewide campaign targeting a Republican-passed budget that he says will hurt many.
Merkley spoke of “the very real impacts that the recently passed Senate budget will have on Oregonians and the need for a different approach that puts the middle class first,” his office said in a news release on the visit.
“In town halls across Oregon, I hear from concerned high school students about the skyrocketing cost of a college education and how the dream of higher education is slipping away,” Merkley said.
“We can’t afford for college to become a luxury for only the best-off, and that’s what the Republican budget is saying to our kids,” the senator added. “With cuts to the Pell grant program and changes to make student loans more expensive for students, this budget goes in exactly the wrong direction.”
Under the GOP-backed budget passed last week by the Senate, which Merkley opposed, $90 million in Pell grant funding would be cut over the next decade. Also, he said, the House budget would freeze the maximum Pell grant amount for 10 years, even though tuition and room and board costs continue to increase.
The Republican budget also changes the way that student loans are accounted for by the federal government, the senator explained.
The change would make student loans appear more expensive for the federal government than they actually are. By contrast, Merkley has co-sponsored legislation to reduce the interest rate students are charged and to allow people to refinance student loans.
“As the first in my family to go to college, I know all too well how daunting the cost of college can be to students from working families,” Merkley said. “And with the cost of college going through the roof, it’s more important than ever to focus on making college affordable for the middle class.”