NDP calls on province to continue student loan payment deferrals

CALGARY — Jayme Tucker pursued her love of storytelling, graduating from SAIT’s Journalism program in April, but its left her with a total of $40,000 in student loans which she now has to start paying back.

The UCP government deferred student loan payments for six months due to the pandemic, but that has ended and the interest rate has increased.

“People should be allowed to learn without being worried about going bankrupt,” said Tucker, who has applied for nearly 80 jobs this summer to start to pay the loans back.  “In my opinion this is yet another step in a direction that directly impacts those who are more at risk of bankruptcy and being failed by our government.”

At the end of February, Tucker along with thousands of students receiving financial assistance from the province were notified that, as of April 1, 2020, the interest rate on Alberta student loans would increase from prime to prime plus one per cent.

The announcement first came during the provincial budget update in 2019. 

The NDP is calling on the UCP government to continue the student loan repayment deferrals for an additional six months. 

“We need to extend the deferral of student loan payments at least for another six months,” said David Eggen, NDP critic for advanced education and MLA for Edmonton North-West.

“This whole idea that somehow things have changed and we can go back to normal doesn’t fit with reality here in the province of Alberta.

“What we want to do, more than ever, is to get people to go back to school, help with retraining, help to diversify the economy and get everybody back on their feet again here in the province. Making it less attractive to go to post-secondary is exactly the wrong way to go and the UCP should know better.”

The province said it is supporting post-secondary students. 

“Alberta provided timely and critical financial relief to more than 200,000 student loan borrowers by deferring student loan payments and waiving interest for six months, from March 30 to Sept. 30, 2020,” said Eliza Snider, press secretary for the ministry of advanced education, in a statement. ”  This mirrored the approach of the federal Canada Student Loan Program, which also resumed payments and interest on Sept. 30, 2020.

“Alberta continues to support borrowers through flexible repayment terms and the Repayment Assistance Plan, which sets affordable payments based on family size and income. In addition, there is a six-month grace period on interest payments when students leave post-secondary studies, which not every province offers.” 

Eggen said the interest rate increase is out of step with other student loan programs across the country, including the federal program.

For Tucker, the increase has been significant as her repayment for her combined provincial and federal loans has jumped from roughly $350 per month to approximately $500.

“It’s going to make it that much harder for students to pay off their loans,” said Tucker. ” It’s going to make it that much harder for people who lack financial access to be able to get loans and pay them off within a reasonable amount of years.

“Realistically I hope that they call a deferment on student loan payments. I also hope that the federal government does that too.”

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