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Congress passes extension for student loan program

WASHINGTON — Congress is extending a federal loan program that provides low-interest money to the neediest students for college.

The Perkins Loan program will get a two-year extension, under compromise legislation approved Thursday in the House, a day after clearing the Senate. The program expired on September 30. The measure now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

“Extending the Perkins Loan program ensures those in severe financial need will continue to have the certainty to help achieve their higher education goals,” said Republican Rep. Mike Bishop of Michigan.

Bishop and Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin had sponsored legislation that passed the House earlier this year that would have given the program a one-year extension, but it was blocked in the Senate. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee says he originally objected to an extension, instead favoring a more-streamlined federal student aid program.

Alexander said in a Senate floor speech that he had a change of heart after colleagues made their case to temporarily revive Perkins loans. The compromise bill imposes some new restrictions, such as a requirement that new borrowers would first have to exhaust their borrowing limit through other unsubsidized and subsidized federal loans before being awarded a Perkins loan.

The Perkins program, which dates back to 1958, provided loans to more than a half million students, totaling about $1.1 billion in the 2013-2014 award year. The average loan was about $2,100, according to federal data.

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