It was an emotional day for Mark and Julie Frascone as they heard the name of their late son Ryan spoken on the floor of the U.S. House on Thursday.
Watching from Eagan, the couple saw Ryan's picture displayed for the nation to see. And they watched as Rep. Angie Craig called on legislators to change the law to help families in situations like theirs that face a recurring reminder to pay down their lost loved one's private student debt.
"I think one of my wife's biggest fears is that some day people would forget about him," Mark Frascone said later that day. "We'll never get him back, but this was really something to know that something good is coming out of this."
Mark has made small donations to Craig's campaign in the past, and both he and his wife, Julie, volunteered for the Democrat.
Before Ryan died of an opioid overdose in 2013 at the age of 29, he had ambitions to become a chemical engineer and had taken out student loans to attend Metropolitan State University. Mark fondly remembers his son's sense of humor and the couple's adventures with Ryan and his two sisters. And even when things got more difficult as Ryan got older, there was the ray of hope that came with his decision to head back to school.
Eight years later, the grief of Ryan's death remains. And so does his remaining private student loan debt that, unlike Ryan's federal loans, has not been forgiven.
The Ryan Frascone Memorial Student Loan Relief Act is Craig's attempt to revise a law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2018 before she was elected. The law says for private student loans entered into on or after Nov. 20, 2018, parents who co-signed those loans don't need to pay off the remaining debt if their child dies. Craig wants to extend that benefit to prior private student loans as well.
"It's just an unimaginable tragedy that the Frascones have gone through, and the idea that every single month they're writing that check just breaks my heart," Craig said in an interview.
A similar effort failed to become law last year. But Craig's renewed push cleared the House on Thursday as an amendment to a larger package. The Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act passed 215-207 without any Republican support.
Jason Iuliano, a law professor at Villanova University who researches student loan debt, said while the issue Craig is focusing on is not widespread, the shift would be a positive change within the student loan landscape.
"For those debtors that it does impact, for those parents who have co-signed and then lost a child, it's going to have this very, very positive and sort of salient impact on them and keep a lot of them out of bankruptcy who otherwise wouldn't be able to pay back these student loan debts that their children have taken on," Iuliano said.
It's unclear what will happen to Craig's legislation or to the larger House debt-collection package in the narrowly divided Senate.
"Our next step is to aggressively look for an opportunity and a partner in the Senate," Craig said. "So that's what I'm going to do."