Bipartisan legislation proposes student loan forgiveness for farm employees or managers
By Diego Flammini
A new piece of bipartisan legislation is designed to help provide young farmers with student debt relief.
The Young Farmer Success Act, introduced in Congress by Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-Penn.) and sponsored by Nikki Budzinksi (D-Ill.) and others, would make young ag professionals eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSFL) program.
This program applies to nurses, teachers, firefighters and other public service positions.
The PSFL, according to the U.S. Department of Education, “forgives the remaining balance on (a person’s) Direct Loans after (he or she has) made 120 qualifying monthly payments (10 years of payments) under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.”
For the Young Farmer Success Act, a qualified farm or ranch is an operation “whose earnings of gross revenue during the year from the sale of agricultural products are equal to or greater than $35,000.”
With an aging ag population, lawmakers are under pressure to come up with solutions to encourage young people to participate in agriculture.
“We have a real issue in agriculture that the average age of a farmer is 57 years old,” Budzinski told The Center Square. “Farmers who are over 65 outnumber farmers who are under 35 at a 6-1 ratio.”
And young farmers have identified student debt as a barrier to success.
More than 10,000 people responded to a National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) survey in 2022.
Young farmers carried an average student loan debt of $35,660, the survey found.
38 percent of respondents said they carried some student loan debt. And another 20 percent of young farmers didn’t take out any additional loans to grow their business because of existing debt.
The NYFC supports the bill.
““The National Young Farmers Coalition supports this bipartisan effort to secure a long overdue update to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that would extend the program’s benefits to the next generation of farmers,” David Howard, Young Farmers policy campaigns co-director, said in a statement.
The National Corn Growers Association, Illinois Farm Bureau and other ag organizations have also voiced support for the bill.
Students in some major ag states carry larger debts.
Illinois, for example, is among the top 10 states with the highest federal student loan debt.
The number was $37,757 per borrower, the Education Data Initiative shows.
For comparison, the only state to have an average student loan debt under $30,000 was North Dakota, at $28,604 per borrower.