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Cunningham pushes measure to expand uses of College Savings Plan

cunningham 031517SPRINGFIELD – College students needing to buy a new computer for school use or who utilize special needs services could soon be able use their Illinois’ College Savings Plan to do so due to a measure being pushed by State Senator Bill Cunningham and State Treasurer Michael Frerichs.

“In today’s society every college student needs a computer to even think about succeeding in college,” Cunningham said. “It is just as necessary as textbooks.”

The measure, Senate Bill 1758, would add computers and other technology based expenses to the definition of qualified expenses for the purposes of one’s Illinois’ College Savings Plan. Expenses from special needs services connected with enrollment or attendance would also be defined as qualified expenses.

“It is unfair for a college or university to put extra cost requirements on a student with special needs to successfully attend and then the state rejects the student’s ability to use their Bright Start Account to pay for those required expenses,” Cunningham said.

The measure was passed out of the Senate’s State Government committee on Wednesday and moves to the full Senate for final passage.

Biss advances Student Loan Bill of Rights

biss 031517SPRINGFIELD – Senator Daniel Biss’ groundbreaking measure to protect Illinois college students from crushing education debt advanced out of a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 1351 establishes the Student Loan Bill of Rights in Illinois to provide as much protection as possible for student borrowers, a population that frequently is targeted by bad actors in the student loan industry.

“At a time when a quarter of student loan borrowers are behind in their payments, we need to make sure borrowers understand their rights and have access to resources that will prevent them from defaulting on their loans,” Biss said. “I am pleased to work with Attorney General Lisa Madigan on behalf of student borrowers, and I encourage each of my colleagues to support this measure.”

The Student Loan Bill of Rights would help to ensure students and their families receive clear information about the money they borrow for higher education and how their student loans are serviced. Among the protections offered in the legislation:

  • Requires student loan services to provide specialized employees to assist borrowers with questions about loan payments, explain repayment options and evaluate a borrower’s financial situation to determine which payment plan is appropriate.
  • Requires loan servicers to give borrowers accurate information on billing statements and properly process borrowers’ payments, and bars servicers from charging unreasonable fees.
  • Requires loan servicers to tell borrowers when and how their federal loans may be discharged due to a borrower’s disability or a problem with the school the borrower attended.
  • Requires loan servicers to provide information so cosigners know the conditions of being released from their obligations.
  • Requires servicers to follow procedures when a loan is transferred to a new servicer to ensure continuity and ensure borrowers’ payments are properly handled.
  • Ensures borrowers have the right to request information and file account disputes with their servicer and appeal any servicer determination.
  • Creates a student loan ombudsman in the office of the attorney general to assist borrowers with student loans.
  • Establishes a student loan servicing license with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to qualify, oversee and discipline services for violating the Student Loan Bill of Rights.

Hutchinson advances plan to restore child care eligibility

hutchinson 031517SPRINGFIELD – Nearly two years ago, Governor Rauner made drastic cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), eliminating safe and affordable child care for tens of thousands of working Illinoisans. While some of those cuts were later reversed, families with parents enrolled in education or training programs remain ineligible.

State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D – Chicago Heights) passed Senate Bill 1705 out of the Senate Human Services Committee yesterday afternoon restoring child care eligibility for these families.

“Every child requires someplace safe to be so their parents can be full and active participants in our economy,” Hutchinson said. “It makes no sense for us on one hand to advocate for training and educational opportunities, which will have long-term financial benefits for families, while taking away any helping hand that would support that parent in achieving their goal.” 

Before Governor Rauner’s cuts, nearly 4,000 children whose parents were enrolled in school or a training program received child care services. Illinois Action for Children estimates more than 30,000 fewer children in total are receiving child care today than in June 2015.

"Research shows that parents who have access to affordable child care services are more likely to complete training and college programs, leading to higher incomes for their families and a lower reliance on programs such as CCAP," said Samir Tanna with Illinois Action for Children.

Senate Bill 1705 passed the Senate Human Services Committee yesterday afternoon and now heads to the Senate floor for further debate.

Munoz pushes to expand access to veterans’ rehabilitation program

munoz 031517SPRINGFIELD — Veterans could soon gain expanded access to rehabilitation treatment through the Veteran and Servicemember Court program under a proposal that was approved in the Senate Criminal Law Committee yesterday. The measure, sponsored by State Senator Tony Munoz (D-Chicago), allows veterans to request to participate in the Veterans Treatment Court after sentencing.

Often veterans do not recognize they have a problem or want to address the issue until after sentencing.  At that point, under current law, they are no longer eligible to receive assistance.

“Unfortunately, a number of our veterans are struggling with substance and alcohol abuse as a result of their time in the Armed Forces, and we need to make sure they can take advantage of programs that help with their reintegration,” said Munoz, an Army veteran.

The Veterans Treatment Court is a structured system that requires participants to report to meetings with a probation officer, report to appointments with a VA case manager, attend drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs as required, and adhere to other recommendations and requirements.

Veterans who complete the VTC program may have their original charges dismissed, have their sentence terminated or be discharged from any further proceedings.

Senate Bill 1312 now moves to the full Senate for consideration.