BOSTON — Massachusetts residents who default on their college loans would not have their license or professional certification revoked under a bill awaiting action by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The proposal, approved by the state Legislature on Monday, would block state agencies or boards of registration from denying or revoking any license or professional or occupational certificate or registration based on an individual’s default on an educational loan.
Under current Massachusetts law, residents can have their licenses or professional certification revoked, denied, or refused for renewal as a result of defaulting on their student loan debt. The Bay State is one of only 14 states with such a law on the books.
Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said the legislation will help people struggling with college loan debt, which disproportionately affects young, low-income individuals.
“Revoking professional licenses that they obtained with a student loan does nothing to solve the problem of loan defaults, and it actively makes the problem worse by preventing new professionals from having the means to pay off their loans,” Spilka said in a statement.
An estimated 1 million Massachusetts residents hold nearly $31 billion in federal student loan debt, an average of $34,146 per borrower, according to state data.
Nationally, more than 44 million Americans are struggling with student loan debt, which surpassed $1.7 trillion last year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
A federal moratorium on college loan repayments related to the COVID-19 pandemic is set to expire at the end of the year, which state officials say will impact hundreds of thousands of borrowers in the state.
“As the federal moratorium approaches its end, we must recognize COVID-19’s continuous impact on employment and borrowers’ financial situations,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, a primary sponsor of the measure. “The bill will ensure that borrowers, who are heavily burdened by student loans, can still continue their career and work towards repayments of their educational loans.”
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden posted a statement on social media saying he has directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to extend the payment pause to no later than June 30, 2023, citing legal challenges to his administration’s student loan forgiveness program.
The plan called for canceling up to $10,000 in debt for those earning less than $125,000 per year and up to $20,000 for those who received federal Pell Grants. But federal courts have blocked the plan in response to lawsuits filed by Republican-led states.
More than 26 million people applied for student loan relief prior to the recent court decisions, according to the Biden administration.
The Biden administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court allow the relief program to go into effect while the legal challenges continue to play out.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.