Under the hot November sun in the University Union Plaza, Rep. Lois Capps stood alongside Cal Poly President Warren Baker on Thursday to celebrate the enactment of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, the largest investment in college financial aid since the 1944 GI Bill.
“Go Mustangs!” Capps exclaimed vivaciously to the students of what she called a “very prestigious university.”
“I want to talk to you about something that is very dear to your hearts,” she said, explaining the significant legislation she has sponsored since she was sworn in as a member of the 105th Congress in 1998.
The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 was signed by President Bush in September to make college more affordable for low-income students by providing $11.4 billion more in the form of Federal Pell Grants over the next five years. Under the act, the maximum Pell award will increase from the current $4,310 to $5,400 in 2012.
During the 2005-06 school year, 3,137 Cal Poly students received Pell Grants.
Overall, the bill cuts interest rates in half (up to $15,000) and guarantees that low-income students will never pay more than 15 percent of their income.
Also, after 10 years of public service, such as teaching in inner cities or serving in the government sector, loans will be forgiven.
“I’ve had three kids go through school and I’ve always been around young people,” Capps said. “So I know their potential and I’ve seen how enormously hard it is to get through school, especially being saddled with debt.”
Introducing Capps and Baker was Erica Janoff, president of the Cal Poly Democrats, who was contacted by Capps’ office to arrange the visit to campus.
“Many students see congresspeople as being not untouchable but unapproachable,” Janoff said. “Her being here, willing to listen and speak with students is really awesome.”
President Baker spoke briefly before introducing Capps, addressing her work in Congress and describing her as a “valiant supporter of students, faculty and staff” and “an effective leader on a range of issues.”
The Democratic representative has served the 23rd district of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties since 2003.
She has visited both Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara, the two largest campuses in the district, to mark the passing of the act.
The Cal Poly Retired Faculty and Staff Club also invited Capps to visit at their luncheon later that day to update residents as to what’s going on in Congress, vice president Harry Sharp said.
“We wanted to hear about the issues they’re focusing on and headway they’re making on problems affecting Cal Poly and this part of the state as well as national issues such as the war,” Sharp said.
Capps joined Congress after her husband, Congressman Walter Capps, passed away. From 1998 to 2002, she was the Representative of California’s 22nd District.
A former 20-year nurse and health advocate for the Santa Barbara School District, Capps is especially passionate about quality health care, improving schools and the environment.
She served as head nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital after receiving a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., a master’s degree in religion from Yale University and a master’s degree in education from UC Santa Barbara.
She was the director of Santa Barbara County’s teen pregnancy and parenting center and taught nursing in Portland, as well as early childhood education part-time for 10 years in Santa Barbara. She founded the House Nursing Caucus and is currently the Democratic Chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and serves on numerous other health caucuses.
Specifically, Capps has passed legislation addressing issues like the national nursing shortage, underage drinking, providing CPR instruction to schools, improving mental health services, preventing domestic violence against women, offering emergency defibrillators to hospitals and providing Medicare coverage to more patients.
For the environment, Capps has led efforts to cease oil and gas drilling off the coast of Los Padres National Park, and to shield consumers from the costs of cleaning water supplies of MTBE. She also serves on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Natural Resources Committee and their subcommittees.