AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A proposed bill is asking for $100 million to help Mainers overcome student loan debt, a number that has reach $1.4 trillion nationally.
Senator Nate Libby (D-Lewiston) proposed the bill, which his camp says is the first of its kind.
The bill would authorize $100 million for graduates who plan to work and live in Maine for at least five years. If they don't stay for five years, they'd have to give the money back.
"We desperately need young people to come set up residence in Maine," said Sen. Libby on Monday.
A new program would be established and administered by the Finance Authority of Maine, which would forgive up to 15 percent of an eligible applicant's student debt annually. The lifetime benefit cap would be $250,000.
"I need young people to work here, and if they're all leaving, it doesn't leave any options," said Jake Bouchard, a small business owner. "If we can keep people -- good people -- in our state, we should do anything we can."
Senate Democrats spokesperson Mario Moretto said that as of now, a person does not have to go to or graduate from a college in Maine to be eligible. The person would just have to have lived here for at least five years, and be employed in Maine. He said a person would have to have started paying loans no earlier than January 1, 2008. Moretto said there are still a lot of specifics to be worked out, and the eligibility requirements could change after the bill goes before the Appropriations Committee this week.
Amanda Smith, a healthcare professional, said she almost left the state to find a higher-paying job to help tackle her loan debt.
"It's a lot. It's a mortgage -- it's over a mortgage," said Smith. "Everything's increasing, but you're not getting paid more. Sometimes even a bachelor's degree is not enough and people are taking more loan debt because in order to make more money you need more education.I think is more of an incentive for kids getting out of school."
Many people on Facebook disagreed with the concept:
Michael wrote, "don't pay more for a year of school than what you will earn in the job you're training for."
Marie wrote, "why should taxpayers help pay off student loans? Nobody pays my bills every month."
A press release from Maine Democrats said the average student loan debt for Maine graduates is nearly $30,000, the 14th highest in the nation. Libby, FAME, and Governor Paul LePage presented the amended bill.
FAME would make payments to loan servicers on behalf of eligible Mainers, and to employers who make debt payments on behalf of their employees, according to a press release.