With legislation pending in Congress that private student lender Sallie Mae says could cause a 30 percent reduction in its domestic workforce, the company continued its effort to draw attention to its plight on Thursday.
At its Hanover Industrial Park loan servicing facility, which employs nearly 1,100, a panel of local economic, community and education leaders discussed how Northeastern Pennsylvania is weathering the recession.
Comment after comment incorporated Sallie Mae.
From heaping praise on the company’s donations to community organizations such as United Way to its hiring of more than 400 people in the past few months, the invited panelists used their time to lobby for Congress to rethink the proposed student loan reorganization bill.
“It is vital that our elected leaders implement policies that will allow businesses to maintain and create jobs,” said Todd Vonderheid, president of the Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry.
“When it comes to the economy, the first rule should be, do no harm. Sallie Mae is an important part of our area’s economy, and passing legislation that threatens those jobs could be devastating,” Vonderheid said.
Troy Standish, vice president of operations at the local Sallie Mae facility, said the bill that was approved by the House in September would “absolutely jeopardize our future here.”
The bill, backed by the Obama administration, would end the Federal Family Education Loan Program and originate all federally backed student loans through the Education Department’s Direct Loan Program.
That plan would greatly restrict the role of loan giants like Sallie Mae.
The House bill projects to save up to $79 billion in subsidies to the likes of Sallie Mae over 10 years, various analysts say. A Sallie-led industry group claims to have a plan that saves just as much while keeping them in the business.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis, dated Nov. 20, and requested by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, shows a version of the legislation he supports in the Senate would save the government $75.4 billion over 10 years – or 95 percent of the bill’s anticipated amount.
Vonderheid said that while unemployment in the Wilkes-Barre region stands at close to 10 percent – nearly 33 percent higher than it was last year at this time – “we’re actually doing better than many parts of the country. The potential for significant job losses at this facility would put us in the wrong direction.”
Elaine Stalfa, a program supervisor at the county’s CareerLink office, credited Sallie Mae as being one of the few major employers hiring during this tough economic time and said “to lose these jobs would be a major hit to our area.”