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1/23/2017 Ackerman legislation would establish ‘Get on Your Feet’ student loan forgiveness program in Rhode Island
STATE HOUSE — Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) has submitted legislation to establish a student loan forgiveness program targeted at helping middle-income students afford the high cost of college.

“Students with high college debt are not only less likely to start a business, buy a home, or begin a family, forcing the economy to stagnate, but, it creates an environment where people are unable to realize their dreams and fulfill their basic goals,” said Representative Ackerman.  “This program would fulfill the need to educate our young people while making a sound economic investment in Rhode Island’s future.”

Under the “Get on Your Feet” program (2017-H 5143), eligible state residents who graduate from post-secondary educational institutions and continue to live in the state will pay nothing on their student loans for their first two years out of school.  Instead, the state will pay the difference between what the federal government covers under the federal “Pay as You Earn” (PAYE) income-based program and what the student owes.

To be eligible, a student must: attend Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island, the Community College of Rhode Island, or the New England Institute of Technology; graduate from one of the institutions on or after July 1, 2018; reside in the state while attending the institution and for at least two years after graduating; participate in the federal PAYE repayment program or, if not eligible for that program, meet all other eligibility requirements; earn less than $50,000 annually for each calendar year in which a student is repaying his or her student loans; and not take a deferment on a student loan.

Representative Ackerman noted that New England Tech is included because the institution offers the type of high-tech education that many businesses looking to transfer to Rhode Island are looking for in a workforce.  “There is nothing that attracts a business more than a pool of technology-savvy workers ready to be hired,” said Representative Ackerman.

Under the program, students would apply through the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority, with the program to be phased in to foster affordability.

“There is no better investment we can make in our state than the education of our residents, but, it is critical that we do this in a fiscally responsible manner,” said Representative Ackerman.  “In order to accomplish this, I am proposing that we phase in the program over the next three fiscal years.”

The legislation also establishes a forward-thinking High-Needs Council aimed at determining the work forces, occupations, and vocations the state needs to foster in any given field to grow the state’s economy and remain competitive with other states.  Should the council determine that a student in the “Get on Your Feet” program is partaking in an education in a high-needs field and being paid low wages compared to the average age in the field, the council could allow that student to remain in the program beyond the two-year cutoff.

The legislation, cosponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick), Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence), and Rep. William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence), has been referred to the House Finance Committee.

“Representative Ackerman has presented us with a truly innovative way to address the problem of student debt and the high cost of higher education,” said House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare Chairman McNamara.  “This legislation would solve the fundamentals of that problem while keeping college graduates in Rhode Island, stimulating the economy by allowing business to draw from a well-educated workforce.”

For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903