Libby presents bill to address workforce shortage, student debt crisis
AUGUSTA — Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby introduced legislation Thursday that would help to address Maine’s worsening workforce shortage and the student debt crisis. LD 149, “An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Provide Student Debt Forgiveness To Support Workforce Attraction and Retention,” was the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee.
“Two of the biggest financial challenges facing our economy today are the growing workforce shortage and the student debt crisis,” said Sen. Libby. “The nexus of these two problems is direct student debt relief as a workforce attraction and retention tool.”
Under an amendment proposed at the hearing by Sen. Libby, LD 149 would offer financial relief of up to $10,000 for anyone with student loan debt who agrees to live and work in Maine for at least five years. Student loan borrowers, or employers who make payments on behalf of employees who are student loan borrowers, would receive up to $2,000 per year over a five-year period. The program would be funded by a General Fund bond of $250 million.
“The student debt crisis is crippling my generation,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, who cosponsored the bill and serves as co-chair of the IDEA Committee. “For people like me who want to live, work, or even start a business in Maine, our student loan burden can significantly hold us back. I’m proud to support this innovative measure, which will benefit both Maine workers and the Maine economy.”
According to survey data from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, one if five Mainers carries student debt. Another study from MECEP shows that 42 of student loan borrowers report that their student debt has prevented them from buying a home; 56 percent report that it has stopped them from saving for retirement, and 35 percent report their debt has hurt their ability to pay for basic necessities.
If LD 149 is approved by the legislation and becomes law, the bond issue would go before Maine voters on a statewide ballot.
A wide variety of groups testified in favor of the bill, including AARP Maine, the Maine Tourism Association, Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and Behavioral Health Community Collaborative, as well as many student loan borrowers from Maine.
“Our state can lead the nation in addressing this crisis while retaining and attracting those young workers and families that we are seeking, and for our investment, we have the potential for seeing a larger return to boost our economy,” said Jonathan French of the Maine State Employees Association and MSEA Rising. “Voters deserve to see a solution like this one on the ballot.”
“We believe that every individual should have opportunities to live in safe and decent housing that is affordable to them,” said J. Andrew Cashman, who testified on behalf of the Maine Association of Realtors. “LD 149 directly addresses one of the biggest obstacles now facing many potential homebuyers: student debt.”
“One way of attracting young new Mainers is to offer incentives for them to come to our state,” said Robert Caverly of the Maine Credit Union League. “It has been reported that out of state students have been coming in record numbers to our universities. Attracting students from other states is half the battle, now we must support programs to retain students after graduation.”
LD 149 now faces further action in the committee and votes before the Maine Senate and House.