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State budget includes student loan forgiveness program

Among the provisions in the state budget approved Wednesday is a loan forgiveness program aimed at keeping college students in New York after graduation.

Under the Get On Your Feet program, students would have two post-college years free of loan payments -- a plan local higher education leaders applauded for helping young people stay in high-cost areas like Long Island.

The program will provide recent graduates "the breathing room they need to get established in a competitive environment and will help them better afford to live and work in this region," said Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

To be eligible, students must meet three major requirements: attend a public or private college in New York and continue to live in the state following graduation; participate in the federal Pay As You Earn program; and earn less than $50,000 a year. PAYE allows student loan borrowers to repay debt gradually, based on their income.

The Get On Your Feet program would supplement the federal program, officials said.

The amount of participants' benefits is based on the amount owed and their adjusted gross income. Borrowers who are in delinquency or default of their PAYE student loans would be ineligible for the New York program.

It's estimated that Get On Your Feet will help 7,100 graduates in its first year and more than 24,000 participants annually by 2019-20.

The program would cost the state $5 million in the first year and about $40 million per year when fully phased in, said Morris Peters, a spokesman in the state budget office.

Laura L. Anglin, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents more than 100 private, nonprofit New York institutions, called the program a "win for students across the state, and a model for the country."

Nationally, there's more than $1.3 trillion in outstanding student debt, with the average borrower owing $28,400 after graduation, according to the Project on Student Debt, part of The Institute for College Access & Success, based in Oakland, California.

It was unclear Wednesday whether student loans in the Get On Your Feet program would accrue interest during the 24 months after graduation.

"An entire generation of young people is suffering under the weight of enormous debt -- a problem that will only get worse over time," said Hubert Keen, president of Farmingdale State College.

"By removing what is generally the largest stressor in a young college graduate's life, Gov. Cuomo is allowing these individuals to concentrate on what really matters -- their new careers."

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