WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Senate Democrats urged newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday to focus on reauthorizing the federal Perkins Loan before the end of the year, the latest step in the effort to revive the 60-year-old student loan program.
The lawmakers said stalled efforts to reauthorize the loan program have left students floundering and has "yielded fiscal uncertainty for millions of low-income students attending college."
"Critical programs with significant bipartisan support that impact millions of Americans in all 50 states remain expired, for the first time in their existence, due to Republican inaction," Democratic Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington said.
The senators also said several other programs, including the highway fund and the Export-Import Bank, have been left flapping in the wind.
The letter comes just days after a bipartisan Senate group pressed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid to take up legislation to reauthorize the loan program. The letter, signed by a majority of the Senate, questions why the loan program was allowed to expire on Sept. 30 "despite receiving a unanimous one-year, no-cost extension from the House of Representatives on Sept. 28."
Senators argue without Perkins Loans students may be tempted to look to private lenders to finance higher education, adding more headaches to the nation's student loan crisis and escalating college costs.
"Since its expiration, a bipartisan coalition of senators have twice attempted to pass a reauthorization bill, only to have it blocked by some Republicans," the senators said.
"We should be making it easier for low-income students in Ohio to graduate from college and go on to succeed," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said. "Reauthorizing the Perkins Loan program for another year is a way we can lift more of these students up at no cost to taxpayers. This is an issue I hear about back home and I agree with my constituents that it's time for the Senate to act."
Started in 1958, the loan program provides student loans at a set 5 percent interest rate, lower than most private loans. Each year, more than a half million students use the financial assistance at some 1,500 higher education institutions across the country.
On Sept. 30, Congress let the program expire after Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, objected to a one-year extension. While the House approved the extension, Alexander blocked the Senate vote.