Congressional staffers get their college loans paid by taxpayers
Our Congressman doubted it, but it's going on right in his office
|Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-NC1|
September 14, 2010UPDATE BELOW
While millions of American college students struggle to find a job to be able to pay back their student loans, we have learned that if they can find a job working in Congress they can dump their loan payments on the taxpayers. You're not going to believe that our Congressman, Rep. G. K. Butterfield, did not know this was going on even in his very own office. But it's true.
Back in August, while being interviewed on another subject, Dick Morris mentioned that "congressional staffers get their student loans written off." We couldn't believe that. So we contacted Rep. G. K. Butterfield's press person, Ken Willis, and asked him if it was true that student loan writeoffs were a fringe benefit of staffers and what other benefits staffers receive. We heard nothing in response for over a week, so we sent a second request. Before Mr. Willis responded, while Rep. G. K. Butterfield was in town Saturday (9-11-10) we asked our reporter covering his visit to check with Congressman Butterfield about the issue.
Mr. Butterfield's response was quick and to the point. He replied: "I've never heard anything about that and doubt seriously that it could be true. I have heard that some of them have gotten in trouble for not paying their taxes, but I don't know anything for sure on that."
Then on Monday, Rep. Butterfield's press contact responded to our second inquiry and here is what he replied:
Mr. Morris is incorrect. Congressional staffers, like all people who have student loans, must repay those loan.(sic) However, the Committee on House Administration did establish the Student Loan Repayment Program to provide House employing offices an additional tool with which to recruit and retain qualified staff in the service of the House. In general, the program enables participating House employing offices to authorize repayment of qualifying student loans on behalf of eligible employees who agree in writing to remain in their employment for a period of one year. Some offices offer this as a benefit, others do not. Under the program, House offices are allowed to use up to 3.5 percent of the average Member's Representational Allowance for all Member offices. Individual participants can receive no more than $833 per month in benefits and no more than $60,000 over their lifetime. The benefit is limited to the staff member only – their children are not eligible.Then we asked who in Rep. Butterfield's office was having their student loan paid for them and how much it was costing and here is the reply we received: "Congressman Butterfield's office does participate but the details are a matter of personnel we are not willing to share. "
I am not aware of an itemization of benefits for congressional staffers. I suggest contacting the House Office of Payroll and Benefits at (202) 225-1435. They are open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday – Friday.
We also contacted the House Office of Payroll. We got put on hold three times with no one coming back on the line. Finally we talked to a nice gentleman and asked for a listing of all of the House staffers from the North Carolina delegation who are participating in the Student Loan Repayment Program. We were told that such information was not immediately available but that they would compile it and email it to us. We have not yet heard from that inquiry but we will let you know what we do learn.
For a more detailed report on Rep. Butterfield's visit to Little Washington, click here.
After we posted the above article Mr. Butterfield's press person, Ken Lewis, sent us this reponse:
"Congressman Butterfield's reaction to your piece regarding the student loan repayment program follows. I hope you will consider adding it to your story.Editor's response: We regret that Congressman Butterfield did not just tell us about the Student Loan Program in his office when we first asked. Had he done so we would not have made the "illogical jump" to conclude that he didn't know about it. Mr. Butterfield may want to parse the meaning of the words ("written off"), but the question was simple, essentially whether Congressional staff have to repay their student loans. We wish he had simply explained the program when we asked. If he had wished to qualify his answer by splitting hairs with a choice of verbs he had every chance to make such a distinction. He did not do so. He never mentioned what he refers to in this response above. Essentially the initial question was "who pays?" His verbal response could only have been interpreted as "the student/staff person."
Congressman G. K. Butterfield on the Beaufort Observer's "Congressional staffers get their college loans paid by taxpayers:"
While I strongly support the freedom of the press, it is deeply disappointing when a publication purposefully and carelessly misconstrues the facts. In this case, the Beaufort Observer saw fit to ask one question only to replace it with another when it came time for publication.
A Beaufort Observer reporter recently asked me whether "congressional staffers get their student loans written off" as falsely alleged by Dick Morris during a television appearance. To which I responded that I had never heard about such a thing and that I doubted that it could be possible.
Unfortunately, the Beaufort Observer saw fit to make the illogical jump that I was unaware of an optional student loan repayment program widely used among congressional offices. The facts and the assertions of Mr. Morris and the Beaufort Observer that congressional staffers do not have to repay student loans stand in stark contrast.
The student loan repayment program was established to provide House offices with an additional tool to recruit and retain qualified staff. The loans eligible for this program must meet all of these requirements: (1) they must be federal student loans – private loans are ineligible; (2) the loans must be made in the name of the employee – not in the name of a parent, spouse, ect.; (3) the loan must be active and require payment – employee may not be in school, in deferment, grace or forbearance; and, (4) the employee must have a current principal balance – there are no payment for loans already paid in full.
The Beaufort Observer also failed to note that this benefit is not limited to Congress – most federal agencies offer a similar benefit as a means of recruiting, retaining and honoring a world-class workforce to serve the American people. Under the law, any employee of a federal agency is eligible, except for certain appointed and civil service-exempt employees. There are also a wide variety of other student loan repayment programs raging (sic) from teachers to nurses to the armed services.
In order to best serve the community, I would urge the Beaufort Observer to strive for greater journalistic excellence. Single-source stories that purposefully twist the facts may provide an easy avenue for attack, but they fail to serve our community."
But then the written details came 48 hours later from his staff. And it was a very different answer. Come to find out there is a very complex program that results in the taxpayer paying for the student loans, at least for those participating in "the program."
So we simply asked for some details—mind you, before we published anything. Who, how many, how much etc. We got a flat refusal to provide what we assume is public information. Now we learn that the taxpayer picks up many more student loan payments than was first indicated. Reporters know the game. It's called the "run-around."
So that gets us to the real point in all this. Is it reasonable for the taxpayers to pay for these student loans? We think that depends on how much the staffers make beyond the student loan benefit. And what's the total bill?
We think the resolution to all this is simple. Post the information on each Representative's and Senator's website, as well as the staff expenses, including perks, of each committee staffer. The taxpayers have a right to know what the cost is of the bill they are footing.
Then, in light of all the deficit spending, increasing cost of government and the ever increasing taxes, we can then proceed to debate the utility of such fringe benefits.
But before we get to that, perhaps we should start with the travel expenses, including those jet planes.
No, we really don't view this so much as an issue of finances, as we do as a matter of attitude. If any fringe benefit for staff and members can be justified as comparable to private industry then we'll take a different view of it. But if it is not "normal and typical" we think these perks should be prime targets for budget cutting. But beyond anything else, the taxpayers have a right to know the numbers.
We've asked for the numbers. We'll see how transparent our government is.