Joseph Hill (COL ’11) came to Georgetown to study government, but he never could have anticipated how soon he would be actually influencing national politics.

Last Wednesday, Hill testified before the House Committee on the Budget in support of legislation that would extend the Federal Perkins Loan Program an extra year from its October 2012 deadline. Hill personally benefited from the Perkins program.

The program, which was founded in 1958, offers low-interest loans to students with financial need through their respective universities. The loan accounts were established as revolving funds subsidized by both federal and university money and have a 5 percent fixed interest rate. Students owe the universities directly, and institutions use the acquired interest to expand the number of loans available.

The Perkins program is set to end on Oct. 1, 2012, at which time participating universities will begin paying back the federal contributions with interest. Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), however, has proposed a one-year extension to the program.

According to Scott Fleming, associate vice president for federal relations at Georgetown, the university was asked to find a student recipient of the Perkins loan who would be willing to testify on the benefits of the program before the House Budget Committee, which is deliberating on Spratt’s proposal. Fleming contacted Patricia McWade, dean of student financial services, who identified and asked candidates to participate.

“I asked [McWade], `Could you see if you could help us identify a student who receives Perkins, and someone who is comfortable talking about their own story and how important it was,'” Fleming said in an interview with THE HOYA. “Joe Hill expressed the willingness to do that.”

Hill’s testimony before the committee highlighted his family’s financial struggles, especially in recent years. His father is a realtor who suffers from myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder, and his mother works for the Department of City Health in Philadelphia. Citing a recent relapse in his father’s condition, as well as the lame duck markets faced by realtors, Hill explained to the House committee the importance of the Perkins loan in his ability to attend Georgetown.

“Last week, I was talking to my mother, and, without hesitation, she said, `It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins loan,'” he told committee members in the hearing.

According to Hill, the Perkins loan was not the most substantial financial aid that he received – he also had awards from the Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Georgetown Scholarship Program – but it was instrumental in closing the financial holes spurred by his tuition bill that Georgetown’s tuition costs created.

“I’m not going to say the Perkins loan exclusively [enabled me to attend Georgetown], but without significant support from the university and from Perkins, I wouldn’t have been able to come here,” Hill said. “The gap was just too significant for my parents to cover.”

According to Fleming, Georgetown is in total support of the continuation of the Perkins program, but cited Congressional monetary concerns as the greatest obstacle. Spratt’s extension plan would cost an extra $750 million.

“We are definitely in the camp that we want to see Perkins continue,” Fleming said, “In our dream world, we’d love to have it continue just the way it is. We are also realists. Given the fact that over the last several years, Congress hasn’t even appropriated any capital funds to the program, I am challenged to believe that in this budget situation that somewhere under a rock they’re going to find $750 million.”

According to an article by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the Obama administration’s 2011 budget proposal suggested that the Perkins Loan Program be expanded rather than eliminated – extended to all 4,400 colleges across America in a move to grow lending from the federal government and pay off debts. The resolution, however, has not been adopted, though Fleming anticipates it will be part of the Perkins debate going forward.

Hill, meanwhile, will be graduating this year with degrees in government and philosophy. He intends to return to Philadelphia to teach in his home community.

In his final comments to the House committee, Hill petitioned leaders to consider the broader implications of the Perkins program beyond money concerns.

“I understand the daunting nature of our budget woes,” he said, “but the Perkins Loan Program is an investment that has made a huge difference in my life and serves as an affirmation of a core American value: That, in America, you can go as far as diligence and hard work will take you.”

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