In these challenging times, it is absolutely critical we make effective long-term investments to rebuild our economy and create a better future for all Oregonians. Education is the best investment there is, and you can be sure that I will continue to make it a key priority as I represent you in Congress.

That is why the House of Representatives recently worked to improve the affordability of education for Oregon students by passing HR 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 (SAFRA) . This legislation makes important investments to increase access to an affordable college education to more students, transform early education opportunities, and build a world-class community college system. SAFRA will significantly increase government grants and loan assistance for college tuition payments. Pell Grants, already distributed to more than 7 million students, will increase to $6,900 by 2019 from $5,350 today.

SAFRA also keeps interest rates low on government-subsidized loans, which is extremely important to Oregon students who borrowed 107,677 subsidized student loans in 2008. The bill also makes substantial investments in early childhood education, expands the Perkins low-cost loan program to every U.S. college, and simplifies the process of applying for student financial aid.

In Oregon’s 5th District alone, 15,701 students will be eligible for Pell Grant awards in the 2010-2011 school year.

The bill will also create a new competitive grant program that will benefit the over 67,000 students attending Oregon community colleges. These programs will improve instruction, work with local employers to build training programs and implement other innovative reforms that will lead to a college degree, certificate or credential to help fulfill local workforce needs. The bill also invests $33.7 million in Oregon alone to finance improvement and modernization projects to help Oregon community college students learn in state-of-the-art facilities.

Higher education is a critical component in building a workforce that is prepared for a 21st Century global economy. Yesterday Congress took a crucial step toward fulfilling my campaign promise of making sure young people have the ability to attend college and access valuable career training.

Yet, all the great benefits of this bill will not add one penny to the federal deficit. In fact, it saves $87 billion over ten years and even returns $10 billion to pay down our deficit. Here’s how it works. SAFRA will change the way the student loan system functions by originating new loans through the government’s Direct Loan program, but will maintain competition among private lenders and non-profits to provide top-notch customer service for student borrowers.

This simple change will make college loans more reliable for students and families -- and ensure that loans operate in the best interests of borrowers by reducing many of the potential conflicts of interest that exist in the current loan system.