SAFRA = quasi-fail, USSA still in the wrongPosted: March 17, 2010
(Warning, acronyms ahead, but luckily it’s the same one repeatedly. You’ve been warned)
Alright, United States Student Association (USSA), you sure had me fooled.
When you guys exploded the Twitter-verse and blogospehere last week with dramatic calls to save higher education, and to press for the rights of students by calling our Congressmen and women to ask them to add SAFRA (Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act) into the Reconciliation Bill, I admit that I was skeptical at the time but I dutifully forwarded it on to ASM and others via social media. (For those of you not keeping track, the Reconciliation Bill is where the Healthcare Bill has gone to live the remainder of it’s miserable and tortured life; it’s not exactly a welcoming and inviting space)
Well, students listened to that melodramatic outpouring online with members of Congress shutting off their fax machines, the switchboards of the Capital were jammed with the volume of calls, and thouasands of letters were sent. Great, right? Well, if activism is all you are going for then perhaps but not quite.
I objected to USSA’s apparent blind support for a variety of reasons for one major one at the time, and a few that have arisen since then.
1) (This is the big one) I think SAFRA was almost strong enough to stand on its own and be debated on the floor. There was bipartison support in the House,(albeit only a few Republicans but thats a few more than support Healthcare…) and although there was definitely more opposition in the Senate, perhaps a compromise could be reached and I would prefer to see that debate in the public forum and not in the amendment-free process of Reconciliation. Plus, we all know Healthcare is toxic and will likely poison anything it is attached to.
Now, I have several beefs with USSA’s support of this.
2) The new SAFRA that would be in Reconciliation is an extremely watered down version that personally does not satisfy what I needed from this legislation. WHY DOES USSA SUPPORT THIS?!?!
We lose NEARLY ALL of the money for the community colleges (substantial), we lose ALL of the early childhood education (substantial), and we lose the consistant increase of Pell Grants (the formula in the House version called for it to increase by basically inflation + 1%, and now it is just by inflation I believe). These are the things I could uncover with only minimal investigation, so I know I missed more.
Basically, we’re getting a SAFRA that increases Pell Grants, and simplifies FAFSA. That’s it. ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THAT? This watery version is what USSA made a giant fuss over last week and basically convinced Congress that we really wanted this.
Now, I’m not taking anything away from Pell Grants. They’re great; I survive attending this university with the help of Pell Grants. However, I’m NOT willing to say that a simple increase in Pell Grants is the great victory we are looking for!
I am ashamed that USSA is so excited to support this weak legislation and is not being straight with students. Nowhere on their site, nor on their Twitter posts, nor anywhere else that I’ve seen, have they told students what is in the new bill. It’s certainly not what I signed on for and I think students, particularly USSA’s supporters in community colleges, will be VERY disappointed by this shift.
And before anyone calls me out on this, I’m well aware that this is probably the only way to get a version of SAFRA through this year but I do not like to see this weakened bill passed without the chance at debate/amendment.
So, frankly, the new SAFRA = fail. Not a broad sweeping reform that I and many others desired. And, again, frankly, USSA is completely wrong to unanimously support this new bill, especially without telling students whats up.
It looks like I have at least one issue for my Big Ten legislative agenda next year…
So, it appears the machinery of the Congress has once again reversed course. Well, not completely turned around but a bit turned around.
It appears that $2 billion will be restored to a community college grant program (NOT the original program, but a new one…) which is something.
However, I still do not feel that this is the broad based change initially advocated for by students which is why it’s a quasi-fail. Additionally, USSA DID NOT KNOW that Congress would add that money back in so my initial argument still stands.