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An ambitious democratically-lead measure to create a loan forgiveness program for students who pursue fields with labor shortages failed to muster enough votes from Republicans in the Assembly on Thursday to override Governor Christie’s recent veto, effectively killing the goal of making college more affordable while helping graduates find jobs.

The legislation, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald and Assemblywomen Joan Voss, Mila M. Jasey, Connie Wagner, Pamela Lampitt and Bonnie Watson Coleman, failed to achieve an override by a vote of 44-32.

The bill (A-3513) was part of the Democratic legislative “Back to Work NJ” effort to create jobs and spark economic development.

“As part of our overall job creation effort, we were particularly mindful that this economy is very tough for recent graduates,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “This measure was aimed at tackling two concerns – helping young residents find work and giving them an incentive to target their outstanding talents to areas of need. Sadly, Republicans and the Governor didn’t feel this was a necessary win-win for our state.”

“Our goal was to create a self-sustaining loan forgiveness program that would keep pace with the needs of society,” said Greenwald (D-Camden). “Even in the best economies it can be difficult for young people to find work. Apparently our Republican colleagues don’t sympathize with their plight or recognize the need to create jobs for young New Jerseyans and combat labor shortages.”

“We need a continuing emphasis on finding work for young people and taking on labor shortages in key areas,” said Voss (D-Bergen). “It’s unfortunate that this measure failed because it would have provided a comprehensive approach to improve our economy by filling vacancies in key professions.”

“While the Governor’s economic approach focuses strictly on giving businesses tax breaks, our effort to improve the economy encompass everyone, including recent graduates struggling to find work and make ends meet,” said Jasey (D-Essex). “This initiative held so much potential because it aims to solve not only that problem, but the ongoing concern we often have with labor shortages in key areas.

“Encouraging our young residents to seek work where it’s needed most is a surefire way to help them get their foot in the door in a difficult economy,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “Clearly Republicans and the Governor do not support our goal of boosting the economy, creating jobs and ensuring workers are filling key needs for New Jersey residents.”

“This bill would have continued to meet its goals well into the future by creating a mechanism to conduct periodic reviews of workforce shortages,” said Lampitt (D-Camden). “It was a smart approach to help direct recent graduates to where the few available jobs are right now. It’s a shame that Republicans would not join us in supporting this endeavor.

The bill would have established the Workforce Shortage Loan Redemption Program within the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. It would provide for the redemption of a portion of the eligible qualifying loan expenses of program participants for each year of service in a field in which a shortage of qualified labor exists in the state.

“This was a great way to help residents find gainful employment in this tricky economy while also enabling them to get a head start in life without the burden of massive student loans,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). “This is yet another smack in the face from the Governor and his party who have shown little interest in alleviating the burden on the working and middle class.”

To be eligible to participate in the program an applicant would have to be:

· A resident of the state;

· A graduate of an associate’s, baccalaureate or advanced degree program from an in-state institution of higher education in an academic discipline appropriately related to a field in which there is a shortage of qualified labor; and

· Agree to perform the required service obligation.

The bill would have established a 13-member Workforce Shortage Loan Redemption Council, which would, among other things, identify every five years no more than three fields in which there is a shortage of qualified labor in the state and recommend to the governor that these fields be included in the Workforce Shortage Loan Redemption Program.

The maximum redemption of loans under the program would amount to 18 percent of principal and interest of eligible qualifying loan expenses in return for one full year of service in a field in which there is a shortage of qualified labor in the State, an additional 18 percent for a second full year of service, an additional 19 percent for a third full year of service, and an additional 20 percent for a fourth full year of service.

A program participant would be able to redeem loans up to a maximum of 75 percent of eligible qualifying loan expenses.