Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) feels victorious, as last week two pieces of legislation he was involved with, including one that prevents increasing the student loan interest rate from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent for one year, and another that gives the green light for transportation projects with long-term federal funding, were approved.
“I am thrilled that we had success in both of those areas,” he said during a phone interview yesterday morning.
In 2007, Langevin helped lower the interest rate on the need-based loans in legislation he supported that reduced it to the current level.
According to Langevin, the average Rhode Island student is burdened by more than $26,000 of debt. Had the interest rate doubled, an estimated 43,000 young people in Rhode Island would have had to pay an average of $1,000 more, Langevin said.
However, while he is pleased, Langevin said there is more work to be done.
“In a year, we are going to have to revisit this because I don’t want to see that interest rate double,” he said. “That will be something we will have to work on over the course of the next year and I’d like to see it extended even further than a year.”
Also, Langevin said it’s “deeply concerning” to him that a college education is becoming more and more unaffordable. He is unhappy that students and their families are struggling to pay for college.
“A college education is just so vitally important to be competitive in this economy,” said Langevin. “It’s not fair that students go to school and come out of school with mountains of debt. We’ve got to find a way to make college education affordable and we can do that by trying to hold the line on tuition costs, increasing Pell grants and by keeping student rates low.”
In terms of the transportation bill, 36 Rhode Island transportation projects will now move forward with long-term federal funding. The legislation ensures that necessary repairs and improvements to Rhode Island’s infrastructure will happen in 2012.
For 17 months, Langevin pleaded with House Republicans to agree to a long-term solution and helped the House pass the Surface Transportation Extension Act. The act authorizes two years of funding with measures similar to a bipartisan Senate bill he supported. The Senate passed its previous version with 74 votes more than 100 days ago. It was estimated to deliver more than $500 million in federal transportation funding to Rhode Island, creating nearly 9,000 jobs statewide.
“That’s good news for us,” Langevin said. “It goes a long way towards creating jobs in Rhode Island and bringing in money for roads and bridge projects. It’s going to put people back to work and at the same time it will begin the process of repairing a crumbling infrastructure.”
Langevin continued, “Rhode Island has among the worst infrastructure roads and bridges in the country and we have to turn that around. If we want to make Rhode Island competitive in the 21st century economy, we have to have a 21st century infrastructure to match it.”
Among the Rhode Island transportation projects no longer at risk of being cut include more than $2 million in improvements to the Barton Corner Bridge, located at I-95 above Route 2, which affects Warwick, West Warwick and East Greenwich; $1.5 million in traffic improvements to I-295 ramps along the Cranston-Johnston border; $1 million for the resurfacing of Post Road in Warwick from South Atlantic Avenue to Warwick Avenue; $3.5 million for the resurfacing of Elm Street and Beach Street in Westerly; and $1.6 million for Matunuck Beach Road Stabilization in South Kingstown.
“This two-year bill ends the uncertainty that has plagued state and local governments, commuters and businesses, while providing some much needed work for our construction industry, which is facing a 14 percent unemployment rate,” Langevin said in a press release. “While supporting jobs in the short-term, this legislation allows us to move forward with improvements necessary to build a 21st century infrastructure needed by businesses that grow our economy.”