As of 2018, Mainers collectively held $6 billion dollars in student loan debt, a number that has almost doubled since 2008. That comes out to about $32,500 per borrower, although unfortunately, there are many who hold quite a bit more student debt. This debt isn’t just a burden for those who took out loans, either; high student loan debt hurts our economy and our communities.

Those who have high levels of student debt have less money to spend in the local economy. Instead of supporting local businesses, buying their first home, or maybe even starting a business of their own, they are using their hard-earned money to pay down student debt. In fact, people who hold a lot of student loan debt may decide to leave Maine altogether, in search of more lucrative job markets in big cities. This negatively impacts our economy and ability to retain and attract talent.

One program Maine has to help tackle this issue is the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit. This program reimburses student loan payments for people who live and work in Maine and can make a huge difference for those who choose to stay here. It’s also an important recruiting tool for businesses looking to hire workers from outside Maine to come work here.

The credit is claimed by filing a form with your income taxes. Folks who graduated from a Maine-based school between 2008 and 2016, and those who graduated from any school after 2016, are eligible to apply. The amount someone is eligible for depends on their graduation year, the amount of student loan payments they made in a given year, and whether or not they work in a designated “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) field.

To learn more or to apply for the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, you can call Maine Revenue Services at (207) 626-8475 or visit www.liveandworkinmaine.com/opportunity-maine/.

Maine also has a program that helps lower the cost of medical school for students hoping to practice in Maine. The Doctors for Maine’s Future program provides scholarships that can cover up to half of a student’s tuition at the University of New England School of Osteopathic Medicine or Tufts Medical School Maine Track program. Both programs specifically focus on practicing in Maine, and to qualify for a scholarship, students must have close ties to Maine and be focused on rural healthcare. This year, I introduced a law that provides two more years of funding for this critical program.

This year, we also passed a “Student Loan Bill of Rights”, introduced by my colleague Assistant Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, which provides protections for borrowers who are working to responsibly pay down their student loans. It also creates an ombudsman position who will field questions and investigate complaints about student loan servicers.

While these programs are very helpful, there is still more we can do. My colleague, Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, has introduced a bill that will be considered by the Legislature next year, to provide student loan relief to first responders, home health care providers and public school teachers. This bill has the added benefit of encouraging young people to go into critical public service fields, filling shortages that are becoming more common in rural parts of the state.

We need to take action to tackle the student debt crisis. Not just for borrowers, but for all of us.

As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns please feel free to contact my office at (207) 287-1515 or send me an email at [email protected] It’s an honor to serve as state senator for Scarborough.

State Sen. Linda Sanborn represents District 30, which includes Gorham, part of Buxton, and part of Scarborough, in the Maine Legislature. She previously served in the Maine House of Representatives and, prior to serving in the Legislature, was a family physician in Gorham for 25 years.

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