Student Loan Payment Reform Championed by Florida Congressional Delegation Comes to Tallahassee

A proposal to help Americans behind on their student loan payments championed by members of the Florida delegation on Capitol Hill is coming to Tallahassee.

State Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil, D-Maitland, filed The “Protecting Job Opportunities for Borrowers (JOBs) in Florida Act” and her office explained the rationale behind it on Friday.

“Currently, the state of Florida authorizes the Florida Department of Health to suspend licenses of healthcare workers who have defaulted on their state or federal government-backed student loans. If passed, this bill will put an end to this practice and provide a safeguard for Florida’s healthcare workers,” Goff-Marcil’s office noted.

“The goal of this legislation is simple – to protect jobs for Floridians,” Goff-Marcil said on Friday. “When we allow the Department of Health to repossess someone’s healthcare license, we’re only worsening the student debt crisis in this country and furthering our state’s shortage of healthcare workers. It doesn’t make sense to deprive someone of their livelihood as a way to collect on student loans.”

The Maitland Democrat noted that 41.5 million Americans owe more than $1.2 trillion in student loans and pointed out that, in the past two years, the state of Florida has suspended almost 130 healthcare licenses due to student loan default.

“Denying qualified healthcare workers the right to a career is wrong, especially when we already face a shortage of healthcare workers in Florida. This bill is about jobs, it’s about addressing the cost of education, and it’s about access to healthcare. I’m excited to file such an important piece of bipartisan legislation,” Goff-Marcil said.

Goff-Marcil’s office noted a similar bill in Congress backed by two members of the Florida delegation.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., teamed up with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to bring back the “Protecting Job Opportunities for Borrowers (Protecting JOBs) Act” which “would help to ensure borrowers are not inhibited from working in their trained field solely because they fell behind on their federal student loan payments” and “would prevent states from suspending, revoking or denying state professional, teaching, or driver’s licenses solely because a borrower falls behind on their federal student loan payments.”

Rubio weighed in on the bill when he brought it out.

“It is wrong to threaten a borrower’s livelihood by rescinding a professional license from those who are struggling to repay student loans, and it deprives hardworking Americans of dignified work,” Rubio said. “Our bill fixes this ‘catch-22’ and ensures that borrowers are able to continue working to pay off their loans, instead of being caught in a modern-day debtors prison.”

“We shouldn’t punish people struggling to pay back their student loans by taking away their drivers’ or professional licenses, preventing them from going to work and making a living,” said Warren who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Our bipartisan bill removes these senseless roadblocks so that borrowers can build better financial futures.”

“Beginning two years after enactment, this legislation would prevent states from suspending, revoking or denying state professional licenses solely because borrowers are behind on their federal student loan payments. The bill achieves this goal by using the same statutory structure that requires certain members of the Armed Forces to receive in-state tuition as a condition of the states’ colleges and universities receiving certain federal funds under the Higher Education Act,” Rubio’s office noted.

The Florida Republican’s office also stressed the bill “prevents states from denying, suspending, or revoking state-issued: driver’s licenses; teaching licenses; professional licenses; or a similar form of licensing to lawful employment in a certain field.” The bill gives states two years to comply and “provides borrowers with legal recourse for non-compliance, by allowing them to file for prospective injunctive relief if a state violates the terms of the act.”

Rubio got some help from the Sunshine State last month when U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., teamed up with U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-NC, to bring out the House version of the bill.

“Many people take out student loans with the hope and expectation that higher education will provide an avenue to better a life,” said Shalala who was the president of the University of Miami and Hunter College as well as the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, when she brought out the bill. “It is counter-productive and counter-intuitive to take away the livelihood that folks rely on to pay back their student loans. This bill is a common-sense solution, and I’m proud to introduce it with bipartisan support.”

“Stripping young adults of the dignity of work because of a student loan burden is counter to our American ideals and the ladder of upward mobility,” Walker said. “Instead of forcing our future leaders into a debt trap, we should be giving them every opportunity to succeed. The government should not be in the position to tell someone they don’t have the right to contribute to our communities and improve their life.”

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

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