By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack got on the phone Monday with FFA students to discuss the need to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling on July 1. The Obama administration and Congress agree student loan interest rates need to stay low, but they can’t agree on how to pay for it.
Vilsack told the FFA members the administration prefers the Senate’s approach to paying for it, closing tax loopholes, over the House’s desire to offset the extra spending by eliminating a women’s preventative health program in President Obama’s health care overhaul.
“There are some concerns on the part of the administration that preventative healthcare ought not to be cut,” Vilsack said. “Particularly for those in rural areas where we are dealing with a healthcare system that has not favorably treated rural residents. We end up paying more out of pocket and having poorer results and less access. Preventative care is becoming extraordinarily important, particularly for women in rural areas.”
Why is the USDA Secretary entering the student loan debate? Vilsack points out the importance of agriculture’s next generation as the cause for him to speak up.
“For those who are interested in participating in production agriculture and being able to continue to produce commodities that are needed in this country and around the world, we’re going to have to continue to have great researchers,” Vilsack said. “We need young folks to learn how to alter seed and learn farming practices so that we can continue to be as productive as we have been in the past.”
He said that’s why the White House has increased the number of and monetary amounts of Pell Grants as well as supported improved access to less costly community colleges.
“Even though we are dealing with tight fiscal circumstances we need to do everything we can to make college affordable and make community college affordable,” Vilsack said. “This is a historic opportunity that the country has, with strong commodity prices, to revitalize the rural economy and to provide new options and opportunities for young people.”
Vilsack fielded questions from FFA members in Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio. He said the growing emphasis on science and math proficiency at the high school level should not be used as an excuse to phase out agricultural education courses.