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Cunningham-Ruiz Bill to Study HESAA Overhaul Advances

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz establishing the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority Review Task Force cleared the Senate Higher Education Committee today.

The purpose of this bill, S-3193, is to establish a 13-member task force to study and evaluate the authority’s implementation of the New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students (NJCLASS) Loan Program and to determine whether its current structure as a bond issuing authority has impeded its ability to extend certain program features to borrowers, such as income-contingent loan repayment and loan rehabilitation programs that would ease the burden of student debt and assist borrowers in making timely and affordable loan repayments.

“This bill begins to look at the options available to address the student loan crisis in our state,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson), chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “The hearing we held on this issue really demonstrated the problems students are facing as a result of HESAA’s policies. We have taken action to reform some of their aggressive tactics, but clearly more work needs to be done. If this task force finds it is better to phase them out, then that’s what we will move to do.”

“The fact remains that the student loan crisis is an epidemic that has spun out of control,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “And make no mistake this is a crisis that is placing a large burden on millennials who are unable to thrive upon graduation because of the added burden of loan debt that is only made worse by the policies implemented by HESAA. We need to find the best way to reform this agency and this legislation begins that process.”

Under the bill, the task force will analyze if another source of funding is available or feasible to support the NJCLASS Loan Program. In light of some of the difficulties and issues borrowers have identified, it will also evaluate if the State should phase-out or eliminate the NJCLASS Loan Program.

Over the last year, a number of published reports have profiled HESAA, including its aggressive tactics used to collect on a deceased student’s loan, and other questionable practices.

In August of 2016, Senator Cunningham led a hearing that began talks about phasing out this program.

The bill cleared the committee 5-0 and will head to the full Senate for further consideration.