Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

State News

June 27, 2014

Grimes talks about student loan debt

DANVILLE — Jennifer Kirchner and her husband, Centre College Professor of Philosophy Daniel Kirchner, make over $100,000 but are struggling to pay off student loans.

“Our student loan payment is larger each month than our mortgage payment,” said Kirchner, a former research scientist who is now director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau here.

The Kirchners are parents of a 4- and a 6-year-old with another child on the way. They want to sell their house and buy a larger one, but”our student loan ratio takes us out of those.”

The Kirchners have been paying on their loans for eight years, but Jennifer Kirchner estimates it will take another 16 years to pay them off.

Kirchner was one of about 20 people with concerns about the costs of higher education who met Thursday afternoon with Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate who is challenging incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell.

Grimes has tried to make the race about economic issues affecting middle class families while McConnell wants to tie Grimes to President Barack Obama and his environmental policies and to Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid who McConnell wants to replace as Senate Majority Leader.

Grimes said the meeting in Danville was to allow her to listen to real stories of people struggling with student loan debts. The same day Grimes released a plan to deal with the problem of growing student loan debt.

But it was no coincidence the meeting took place just a couple of days before Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who sponsored a bill to allow those with student loans to refinance at a lower rate, will be in Kentucky this weekend fundraising and campaigning for Grimes.

Warren’s measure failed to muster 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, and Warren blames McConnell, the minority leader. After the vote, Warren said she will fight back by helping elect Grimes. The two are scheduled to appear at a rally Sunday morning on the University of Louisville campus.

Kirchner wasn’t the only one worrying about the burden student loans put on families and on the economy.

Stephanie Winkler, of Richmond, is president of the Kentucky Education Association that traditionally endorses Democratic candidates and has already endorsed Grimes. She and her husband had to defer buying a house until her student loans were paid off.

Winkler said many teachers spend the equivalent of their salary in order to obtain required advance degrees, sometimes while carrying student loan debt from their undergraduate days.

“We need degrees, not debt,” Winkler said.

Tom Poland of Farmers National Bank, said student loans compound problems facing those who struggled through”the Great Recession,” depressing demand for new homes and home loans from his bank.

With each story, Grimes reminded the group that McConnell has voted against measures she supports and she says will aid middle class families, including Warren’s measure and another to require equal pay for equal work.

The plan Grimes released Thursday mirrors some of Warren’s proposals, including the measure to allow those with student loan debt to refinance them at lower interest rates. She also wants to allow a one-year period when new student borrowers could obtain a loan at a three-quarter of 1 percent interest rate. The current student loan rate is 3.4 percent.

Grimes said her plan would benefit nearly 360,000 Kentucky students who carry an average of $20,000 of student loan debt. She also wants to fully fund Pell Grants, which are available to undergraduates based on financial need.

Allison Moore, McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman, zeroed in on the similarity to Warren’s bill.

“Alison Lundergan Grimes claims that she would represent Kentucky, yet she is already falling in line behind the most liberal Senate Democrats by supporting their far-left policies to advance President Obama’s agenda.”

Those meeting with Grimes in Danville clearly didn’t think making college education more affordable was part of a “far-left agenda.” But they were 20 people. Grimes was asked how she can get the conversation with more voters turned to her economic message.

“This election is one where we will be heard, and I think the polls are showing our message is resonating,” said Grimes, referring to a poll released this week showing her with a narrow lead over McConnell. She said she will continue visiting the entire state, sharing her message of economic fairness for the middle class.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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