Advocacy update August 30, 2022

Advocacy update August 30, 2022

Advocacy update August 30, 2022 150 150 Episcopalians in Connection
1.77 million Ohioans have federal educational loans. How new federal debt forgiveness will work.

The Statehouse News Bureau reports that Ohio ranks second nationally in the percentage of residents with student loans, with an average balance of $34,923. On Aug. 24, President Biden announced a plan to forgive $10,000 of individual federal student loans for undergraduate degrees, and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. This program will benefit people earning less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. The pandemic loan payment pause has been extended to Dec. 31 for all borrowers with federal student loans. People who work for non-profits, the military, or government could qualify for all their student loans to be forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgivenenss (PSLF) program but must apply before the end of October. Visit this link for details.

“According to a fact sheet from the Biden administration, nearly 8 million borrowers may be eligible to “receive relief automatically” because of income data already available to the U.S. Department of Education. For others, an application will be made available before the pause on repayments is lifted at the end of the year,” said reporter Jo Ingles in the Statehouse News Bureay article.  She reports that researchers at both Policy Matters Ohio (a progressive think tank) and the Buckeye Institute (a conservative think tank) agree that the rising cost higher education is a fundamental problem that has to be addressed. She cites the concern of Logan Kolas of the Buckeye Institute that loan forgiveness will incentivize colleges to raise tuition even more.  The Columbus Business Journal reported in 2019 that tuition at Ohio’s public universities rose 17% from 2009 to 2019.

“For too long, leaders in Ohio and nationally have chosen to systematically underfund public higher education [and] enact exploitative lending practices,” wrote Hannah Halbert, Policy Matters Ohio’s Executive Director, on Aug. 24. (See article) “Policymakers’ reliance on debt to fund higher education has trapped many Americans in a cycle of debt that seems inescapable. Today’s action by the Biden Administration…entirely relieves that burden for many Ohioans and eases it for others.” Policy Matters Ohio published a study in 2020 which showed how Ohioans with student loans are burdened by fines, interest, and collection fees which make their debt balloon, and state policies that make it hard for schools to forgive debt and re-enroll students needing to complete their degrees. This traps them in low-wage jobs. State law requires public colleges and universities to certify student debt to the Ohio Attorney General for collection, which includes not only tuition loans but library and lab fees and fines. State collection fees get added to the debt. The impact is worst on low-income students.

More Ohioans qualify for utility bill relief

Share this good news with the emergency assistance programs in your community: households earning up to 175% of the poverty level will now be eligible for the PIPP program, which caps their monthly utility payments at 10% of their gross income.  The household’s payment stays the same all year. The previous limit was 150%, but rising energy costs issues led the State to increase it this summer. Applications can be submitted online at this Department of Development link (which includes an eligibility chart) or through local Community Action Agencies in most parts of Ohio.  PIPP stands for Percentage of Income Payment Plan.  Participants must qualify annually, and make payments on time to stay in the program. If the household makes 24 payments on time and in full, the balance due is forgiven.  The program is administered through the Ohio Department of Development and paid for by the Universal Service Fund, a charge on all customers’ bills authorized by the Public Utilities Commission.  You can read about other energy assistance programs, including the federally-funded Hope Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), at this link.

League of Women Voters resources to protect honesty in education

Our Christian denomination is dedicated to healing racism by building God’s Beloved Community. Telling the truth about our history and current social conditions, describing how they should work, and repairing the breach are central spiritual disciplines.

As a participant in Becoming Beloved Community work in our diocese, I am glad to share the resources provided by the League of Women Voters of Ohio on their policy priority of protecting honesty in education. The League documents dangers in the State Legislature, local school boards, and the state school board. This includes two current bills (HB 322 and 327) that would prohibit “divisive content” with the penalty of revocation of state funding and licensure. The link above includes toolkits on the bills, local and state school districts, news, educational resources including the Real Talk video series, and advocacy resources.  It also offers concrete actions you can take on all three dangers.

Recap of Ohio’s redistricting failure, potential remedies, and risks

Last week Statehouse reporter Jessie Balmert of USA Today’s Network Ohio Bureau published an excellent summary of the way Ohio’s legislative leadership subverted the redistricting process approved overwhelmingly by Ohio voters to prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering. This has led to state and federal district maps being found unconstitutional in what she calls “a Groundhog Day-like loop” by seven Ohio Supreme Court decisions which the House Speaker and Senate President were able to ignore with impunity. Unconstitutional state and Congressional maps are being used for the unprecedented second primary held Aug. 2 at a cost of $20 million to taxpayers and the upcoming fall election.

The 2011 redistricting which prompted the voter referenda resulted in a veto-proof Republican super-majority in both houses and the Ohio Supreme Court repeatedly ruled in decisions joined by Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner that the districts passed on party-line votes by the Redistricting Commission would preserve a disproportionately Republican advantage in both state and Congressional delegations. Ohio’s voter-amended constitution set standards which would generate a more balanced Republican majority reflecting actual voting patterns over the past decade and falling short of a super-majority.

Uncompetitive districts means “there’s no need to compromise,” says Freda Levinson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, who filed suit against the maps. “The legislation that gets passed is extreme, polarized and not reflective of the desires of the populace of the state.” Possible remedies include empowering the Ohio Supreme Court to choose or draw maps, or hiring an independent mapmaking commission. Over all this hangs the North Carolina gerrymandering case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall which could end up in a decision that only state legislatures have authority to draw maps for Congressional districts. This would defeat the constitutional amendment passed by Ohio voters setting criteria for fair districts and giving the Ohio Supreme Court authority to rule whether Congressional maps meet those constitutional standards.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a longtime community advocate and member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming. Connect with her at arielmillerwriter@gmail.com