Shanley bill would forgive up to $30K in students loans
The average student loan debt per student in Rhode Island is about $35,000, and a bill from Representative Evan Shanley seeks to ease that cost. The “Rhode Island Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program” (2017-H 5889) would relieve students of a portion of their loans.
To qualify for the program, individuals must have graduated high school and college, live and work (provided they are employed) in Rhode Island and be making less than $60,000 adjusted for inflation per year.
“The idea here is to start a conversation…as to what we’re going to do to make sure Rhode Islanders stay here,” Shanley said.
The program would pay up to 50 percent of a student’s income driven repayment, up to a limit of $500 per month. For those not on an income contingent plan, it pays up to $250 a month. The payments would apply for five years for those who meet all the criteria – a maximum lump sum of $30,000 – and three years – a maximum of $9,000 – for those not on income contingent plans.
Shanley said he chose forgiving half the payment because he wanted students to have incentives to keep their debts as low as possible or pursue applying for their scholarships on their own. He felt that incentive wouldn’t exist if the state made the full payment. Plus, the state must be able to afford it.
“I hope we can get to a point where public education can be free but we’re not there yet. I think we need to do something immediately, but it has to be what we can afford to do,” he said.
In addition, the $60,000 or less figure was chosen as that is where Shanley in his personal experience has seen students become more comfortable with their income and finances. Though the bill is starting with a narrower, Rhode Island focused group of people, Shanley said it has room to grow.
“I think next logical class of people would be those who graduated from Rhode Island but went to college out of state and then come back home,” he said.
Shanley said general funds, including the additional online sales tax, could help pay for the proposal. He also said money could potentially come from revenue if marijuana is eventually legalized and regulated in the state. He added that he is still waiting on a fiscal note to determine a cost for the program, but hopes that between his bill, other legislation in the House, and Governor Gina Raimondo’s free tuition proposal, a compromise between all avenues that will assist students with their financial struggles can be put forth.
The governor’s office is not currently offering comment on the bill. Charles Kelley, director of the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority, said RISLA has seen the bill and has begun working on determining how many students in Rhode Island have outstanding student loans and how many could be impacted by Shanley’s proposed program.
The bill has been referred to the House Finance Committee and is cosponsored by Representatives Julie Casimiro, Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Joseph Solomon and Susan Donovan.