Two Workforce Bills Get Hearing

Lassa bills use student loan debt relief as incentives for skilled workers


Madison —  Two bills that would use student loan debt relief to encourage skilled workers to live in Wisconsin,  authored by State Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point), received a hearing today in the Senate Committeeon Universities and Technical Colleges.

“I especially like this concept, because it would boost our state’s economy two ways,” Sen. Lassa said. “Not only does it help grow and shape Wisconsin’s skilled workforce to meet the demands of tomorrow’s economy, it also help young people with the growing burden of higher education loan debt.”

The first of the two bills, known as GROW Wisconsin, would offer student loan forgiveness to graduates who move to rural communities to take a position or start a business.  The second bill,  “Wisconsin Workforce Focus: Focusing on Critical Careers and Uptrending Sectors,” specifically addresses the “brain drain” of Wisconsin students leaving the state after graduating by offering those with identified high-demand skills debt relief in exchange for staying in Wisconsin.  It would also encourage talented young people with those skills to move to the state.

Both proposals grew out of recommendations for addressing the skilled labor shortage made by the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, on which Sen. Lassa served.  In both measures, qualifying individuals would have payments made on their student loans of up to 20% of their outstanding student loan balance, up to a maximum $15,000 in equal shares over a maximum of five years.

The GROW Wisconsin proposal is based on a successful program in Kansas which has resulted in attracting new residents to the state’s most rural areas. “Thanks to this program, rural Kansas communities are seeing population growth, new housing starts, and increasing public school enrollment for the first time in decades,” Sen. Lassa said.  The proposal has been endorsed by the Wisconsin Counties Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

The Workforce Focus bill will address the statewide shortage of workers with technical skills in areas such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare, computer and technical fields, business and financial operations, and science.

“The Department of Workforce Development estimates that by 2022, Wisconsin will have a workforce shortage of 46,000 workers,” Sen. Lassa said. “A flat labor force will reduce productivity, limit income growth, and decrease our ability to maintain our roads and schools. The Wisconsin Workforce Focus bill would offer us a powerful tool for attracting and retain talented young people, and help us strengthen Wisconsin’s economy.

“These proposals present a unique way to help solve Wisconsin's worker shortage in rural areas and across the state,” Sen. Lassa said. “I am hopeful that these measures will be quickly adopted so that our state will have additional tools to help college grads and build our economy.”