Rep. Sorensen visits ISU; talks student loans, Israel, government shutdown
U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen took a tour Friday night of the Illinois State University campus with interim president Aondover Tarhule to discuss the state of education in central Illinois and other issues.
Something Sorensen noted was the beams going up for the Mennonite College of Nursing Simulation Center. Ground was broken for that project in June.
Sorensen, a Democrat who represents the 17th Congressional District, connected creating the simulation center with the increased need for local nurses.
“I’m so encouraged to hear that there’s going to be 400 more nursing students that are going through the pipeline,” said Sorensen. “We need nurses that are going to learn here in Bloomington-Normal to take the jobs that are going to be in our smaller communities here in central Illinois. And it’s that pipeline that’s going to make us succeed.”
ISU’s upcoming College of Engineering is something else Sorensen and Tarhule discussed. Sorensen said he’s looking to help reinvest in central Illinois’ electric grid, and that the university's new engineering school will help create more engineers, thus helping to boost the grid.
Student loan debt
Increasing MAP grants was cited by Sorensen as a way to help students manage their loans. But interest rates were Sorensen’s focus.
“I don’t think it’s wrong to say that these are even predatory,” said Sorensen, who is in his first term in Congress. “When you look at the percentage rates here, or you look at the student loan funding that came back in the past couple of years, I heard from constituents in this district that said, ‘That didn’t even touch some of the interest that I was paying in my loan.’ How are we expecting people to pay off these loans if the interest rates just continue to go up, and up, and up?”
The current federal interest rate for an undergraduate student taking out direct subsidized or direct unsubsidized loans is 5.5%. The rate climbs just past 8% for parents and graduate or professional students taking out Direct PLUS loans.
Sorensen proposed an idea that could help ISU students erase their debt quicker. He suggested students who graduate from Illinois State be allowed to utilize their degree in Illinois to help boost the economy — then have their rates lowered as they continue to serve their community.
Sorensen also took time to address the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. He said the U.S. government should look to provide humanitarian aid in order to start the path toward long-term peace — not just in Gaza, but in Ukraine, too.
“We have to understand that our democracy around the world is in jeopardy today. It really is. You look here at what’s going on in Ukraine with the advancement against Ukraine from Russia. You look at what’s going on with Israel today, that 1,400 people were murdered in one day. And all of those 1,400 people were connected to families.
"I think what we need to be able to do is take a step back. We need to breathe, we need to understand that humanity is here. And we need to make sure that we’re focused on the solution that is going to bring us peace long term,” said Sorensen," adding he'd like to see a cease-fire in Gaza, but that it can’t precede humanitarian aid.
“There was a cease-fire on Oct. 6. There was a cease-fire on Oct. 5, and the fourth, and the third, and the second and the first. All the way back to August when I was in the Middle East,” said Sorensen. “We need to get back to that. We need to have that long-term focus to see that cease-fire happen again.”
And as a government shutdown looms yet again next week, Sorensen said it would spell disaster for the 17th Congressional District and the rest of the country.
His optimism, he said, is starting to wane.
“Am I optimistic? Not as much today as I was, because of the fact that a lot of the appropriations bills that made it to the House floor have been pulled…but look, it’s in the new Speaker of the House’s hands. He’s got the ability to either say we’re going to have another continuing resolution, which will take us into January, or into March or April, or are we going to just let it all fall apart?
"So this is all in the House GOP today. But look, I hope we do what’s right,” said Sorensen. “We have to do what’s right by the people, and we have to make sure the government works for the people again.”