Prince George's politicians have banded together in a remarkably cohesive coalition to grease the legislative skids for a proposal introduced today that would establish a county authorized, low-interest loan pool for middle-income students.
Maryland Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) met Monday with Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) and Greater Washington Board of Trade President Peter F. O'Malley to discuss the plan, which would provide low-interest loans for up to 12,000 county residents who meet certain income requirements.
The proposal is patterned after one just begun in the District of Columbia by the Consortium of Universities, a 10-member group of local institutions, including American, George Washington, Georgetown and Howard universities.
Under the Prince George's proposal, the County Council will be able to authorize the sale of $20 million to $35 million worth of tax-exempt revenue bonds to raise the capital for the program. The money would be used to make loans to students who are county residents, who would then repay the loans at an interest rate of about 9 percent. The cost of administering the program, including the interest the county pays, would be covered by the loan interest paid by the students.
The program would be administered by the Consortium of Universities and would be available to students and their families who must show that they pay 45 percent or less of their salaries on daily living expenses.
Depending on family income, students who have exhausted other financing alternatives can qualify for loans of $2,000 to $12,000 for each academic year, according to the Rev. John P. Whalen, executive director of the consortium.
He said, however, the average loan was expected to range from $3,500 to $4,000.
"It's a terrific benefit for the community," Whalen said. "And it doesn't cost the government anything."
A spokesman at the University of Maryland's student financial aid office said today that nongovernment student loans are now being made at interest rates of 12 to 17 percent, similar to most personal bank loans.
O'Malley, a Largo lawyer who has been a dominant force in the county's sometimes-fractured Democratic organization, said the plan was the brainchild of Whalen, who is also secretary of the Board of Trade.
"It's designed primarily for middle-income families," O'Malley said. "What we're finding is that a combination of grants, loans and work programs don't reach" those people.
Glendening, who has often been at odds with O'Malley and Miller, said that such a program would fill "a tremendous need" for county students who are caught in a financial crunch that recent reductions in federal higher education loan programs have exacerbated.
"This is another area where the federal government is cutting back and the state and local government is stepping in," Glendening said.
Miller introduced the bill today. The measure, drafted as a local bill, must be approved by the county's Senate delegation before it is sent to the full body for action.
Because it is a local bill, it is not expected to encounter opposition on either the House or Senate floor, legislative leaders said. Both Miller and Steinberg expressed optimism that the proposal will not be stuck in the rush of legislation that remains to be approved before the end of the session early next week.
Miller and House delegation Chairman Charles J. Ryan said that they did not learn of the proposal until this week, but they were optimistic about its chances of passage because it applies only to Prince George's County.
"What we're going to try to do is sell the Senate and the House on a 22-page bill in very short order," Miller said.