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Welch legislation pushes employers to help pay down student debt

(WCAX)
Published: Oct. 15, 2019 at 4:41 PM EDT
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Students graduating from college today can face tens of thousands of dollars in loans. Many say this sets them back from buying a house, having kids or starting their careers.

Our Calvin Cutler has the details on a new plan from lawmakers on how to help alleviate the burden.

Sixty percent of Vermont's college graduates from last year face loans totaling an average of $32,000. State leaders say paying off these loans can be crippling for young professionals who are just starting their lives. Now, lawmakers are proposing legislation which treats student loan reimbursements like health care benefits in the workplace.

In universities across the country, the rising cost of college continues to set students back after graduation.

SunCommon, a Vermont-based distributor of solar technology, is working to alleviate its employees' payments.

Robin Gresham is an employee swamped in loans.

"It's really hard to plan for the future when you're working so hard to just dig out from the past," Gresham said.

SunCommon has a program where employees who aren't participating in a 401K plan can receive the equivalent financial contribution toward paying down their student loan debt. Employees receive about $5,000 a year toward their loans.

The Waterbury company has had about 16 employees participate since they started the program back in 2018. They've contributed about $30,000 toward student loan debt.

Congressman Peter Welch is hoping to take SunCommon's program to the national stage.

could also help with the state's workforce problem by keeping graduates in-state.

Anything that a company can do that makes that margin of difference for a young person to be able to take that job here in Vermont, that really makes a difference," said Welch, D-Vermont.

The program is an extra cost for employers, and though it may be a hard pill to swallow for some businesses, SunCommon leaders say it's a manageable cost. This program accounts for one-third of a percent of their employee benefits.

"This is what Main Street businesses in Vermont can do to support their employees and build their businesses even stronger," said Duane Peterson, the co-president of SunCommon.

Welch says this could easily pass through the U.S. House but he suspects that Sen. Mitch McConnell will stonewall it in the Senate.

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