Thank you to my colleague for yielding. I'm so happy to be here today with my colleagues in support of preventing a drastic hike on student loan interest rates. Education truly is the key to improving our economy and ensuring a strong America for generations to come, but current barriers to higher education jeopardize those goals for too many. Education needs to be accessible to everyone, not just to those who can pay tuition out of their pocket.
I'm proud to be a cosponsor of the Stop the Rate Hike Act, which will prevent a jump in student loan interest rates, but not at the expense of health care for vulnerable populations and women.
Federal student loans play a significant role in improving access to education. If we allow interest rates to double on July 1, this key component of college affordability will become an increased burden on millions of students across the country who currently have student loans. The average amount of loan debt for these students is more than $23,000, and if we don't prevent this hike in interest rates, they will see their debt burden increase by an average of $1,000 just this year.
Now, I'm pleased that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle recognize the importance of preserving affordable interest rates for students, but I'm disappointed in proposals that would guarantee these rates at the expense of other struggling populations. The prevention and public health fund is a critical tool that decreases costs and improves access to health care for a number of populations, including women and children. If fully funded, in 2013 women and children will have access to many lifesaving screenings and preventive care, like funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings and childhood vaccinations. Without this important fund, many women and children would not be able to access these tests, leading to poorer outcomes and increased costs on our health care system in the future. Now, I'm hopeful that the Senate will act to prevent a jump in loan interest rates and send a bill back to the House that does not cut preventive health care funding.
I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve our education system, create jobs, and continue our economic recovery without reversing the important steps forward we've made to improve access to health care.