SGA, College Dems organize phone-a-thon against aid cuts

By Stephanie Peters

In a last-ditch effort to sway legislators’ votes on a Congressional bill that would deal Northeastern a monumental blow in financial aid cuts, members of the Student Government Association (SGA) and College Democrats took to the phones Tuesday afternoon.

The student groups flooded the phone lines of House representatives who may be persuaded to vote against the Budget Reconciliation Bill today, which, if approved, would cut a total of $12.7 billion in higher education financial aid.

Northeastern faces a substantial blow, standing to lose $2.2 million in work-study funds and cuts to both the Pell and Perkins loan programs.

It is the third and final vote the bill will face, meaning it is the last opportunity students have to make their voices heard, said Billy Haddad, SGA vice president of financial affairs and a co-organizer of the phone drive.

The bill was narrowly approved by both the House and the Senate in its two previous votes. It was first voted on in the House this fall and approved by a 212-206 margin, with 16 non-voting representatives. Before the December recess the Senate also passed the bill 51-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote.

Between 15 and 20 students placed calls to the representatives’ offices throughout the day, Haddad said, and he believed legislators were getting the message.

“They’ve been pretty receptive, they said they’d pass along the message,” Haddad said. “But at the end of the day, as long as the call records show that there were a large number of calls from students saying, ‘We’re in your district, we vote in your area,’ that’s what’s important.”

The university has also fought against the bill, said Dean of Student Financial Services Seamus Harreys, but he stresses that nothing he or his colleagues can say could match up to hearing firsthand from affected students.

“I think it’s very good that it’s being brought by our students to the attention of Congress by these direct communications,” Harreys said. “It’s about real people, with real goals, living real lives, who are voters and the representatives need to hear that [the students] are concerned with how this could affect their ability to contribute, to pay for the college, to become productive members of society.”

The narrow margin of victory on the two previous votes gives Harreys hope that the bill might be overturned in today’s vote, he said.

Sophomore Rob Ranley, SGA assistant vice president of financial affairs, spent most of Tuesday afternoon in the office placing calls to Republican representatives from New England, New York and New Jersey, regions from which much of Northeastern’s student population hails.

“The majority of people have been really nice, especially the ones we were calling just to say ‘Thank you,’ Ranley said. “They love to hear they’re being supported.”

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., who previously voted in favor of the bill, has announced that he will vote against the cut. SGA senators who placed calls to his office Tuesday received the same reassurance, Ranley said.

Though it’s unclear what the impact will be on Northeastern if the bill does pass, Harreys said he will continue to seek out loan lenders with the lowest rates.

SGA and the College Democrats also teamed up with the College Republicans and the Council for University Programming Tuesday night to sponsor a State of the Union watching party in afterHOURS last night.

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