Legislators Proposal to Help American Farmers in Student Debt Crisis
Being a public servant holds benefits such as student debt forgiveness and some advocates and bipartisan legislators are pushing a proposal to add a new position into the public sector – farmers.
In 2007 a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was implemented and Rep Chris Gibson (R-NY) introduced a new bill to add farmers to this program. Referred to the House Committee on Education and Workforce, the bill has seven co-sponsors, including five democrats.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey, 23.8 percent of principal farm operators completed college in 2007 and some advocates say student debt may be the culprit holding young Americans back from starting farms, buying land, or even considering farming to begin with.
“We’re increasingly moving toward a system where the barriers to entry in farming as a young person are too high,” said Eric Hansen, a policy analyst at the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), a group pushing to include farming into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
In a survey conducted by the NYFC, 700 young farmers were interviewed and nearly 30 percent said they are unable to grow their business because of student loan debt.
In 2012 only 6 percent of nearly 2.1 million farmers were under the age of 35, down from almost 16 percent 20 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several variables come into play when looking at these figures – mechanization, raising average ages, and children deciding to opt-out of the family business. But some saddled with student debt say money is the reason holding them back.
“The longer I’m on the farm, the longer I’m not really making an income,” said Emily Best, according to a MarketWatch article.
Best has worked for a farm for over 3 years, seeding and managing a greenhouse in central Pennsylvania. Most of her tens of thousands of dollars in loans are from graduate school where she studied environmental policy with a focus on farming and agriculture.
Gibson said our nation’s food supply could be endangered due to famers strapped down by student debt, and advocates claim there won’t be enough farmers when the current generation retires.
“If we’re going to be an independent, self-reliant nation we need to grow our own food,” said Gibson.
Advocates are suggesting by forgiving farmers’ student loan debt we might see an increase in those pursuing the career. The proposal has a 10 year term and student borrowers must make consistent payments during that time to qualify for the forgiveness program.
Policy Analyst in the education program at the think-tank New America, Alexander Holt has expressed his concerns with including farmers into the public sector. He said including for-profit farmers could lead to almost any profession fighting for a spot in the public sector to forgiving loans.
“The last thing I want is a public subsidy to encourage hipster farmers starting small inefficient farms,” Holt said. “If they’re running a small farm because that’s a passion in life, but they also chose to take on a lot of debt to go to graduate school; that’s not the taxpayers’ problem.”
Opportunities are available for young farmers to graduate debt-free and include attending a “work-college” – in exchange for work on the campus farm, students can attend debt free.