During an internship this past summer for his home district’s congressional representative, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, Shawn Semmler heard about proposed legislation, the Employer Participation in Student Loan Act, that could help students pay off their student loans. He returned to Ohio State with a goal in mind.
Fast forward to Sept. 11, when Undergraduate Student Government signed a letter with more than 100 companies and other universities’ student governments in support of the bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Ohio congressional representatives.
The collegiate support stemmed from Semmler, the USG deputy director of governmental relations and a third-year in finance at Ohio State. Semmler first proposed the bill to USG last fall, when he said Peanut Butter student loan assistance, a company advocating for the bill, asked him to reach out to Ohio representatives to co-sign it.
The bill, if passed, would provide tax cuts to companies that pay off new employees’ student loans, much like how companies receive tax cuts if they pay employees to receive graduate or professional degrees.
The average American with student loans is more than $32,000 in debt, said Peanut Butter CEO David Aronson. Data gathered for the collegiate governments’ legislation showed that there are 44 million Americans who own $1.4 trillion in student loans, he said.
Semmler said he believes this debt crisis is inhibiting economic growth. He said the bill would help students pay off their loans 30 percent faster and save more than $11,000 if employees are given an average of $100 a month by their employers.
Semmler and other USG members attempted to lobby Ohio delegates during a trip to Washington, D.C., last spring. However, Semmler said he did not know if they would welcome the bill, as it wasn’t a high priority to legislators.
In particular, Semmler said they talked with Rep. Joyce Beatty’s office. Beatty, whose district includes Ohio State’s campus, was “very interested,” Semmler said.
While USG focused on Ohio representatives, Semmler said the bill currently has 91 cosigners and a similar bill exists in the Senate with six co-signers. Both bills have bipartisan support.
Through the Association of Big Ten Students, a collaboration of all Big Ten student governments, USG drafted a piece of legislation with four other student governments to collectively support the bill during its summer session.
The proposal was the only piece of legislation to pass with unanimous approval during the summer session.
University of Iowa Student Government member Benjamin Nelson joined Semmler in writing the legislation, but said Semmler did the majority of advocating.
Following the summer session, Peanut Butter reached out to Semmler again, and told him about a letter of support.
From there, USG pushed for the addition of all individual Big Ten student governments and five others, such as the University of Alabama and University of Cincinnati.
Aronson said members of Congress are more responsive to younger people’s testimonies, and the support from people like Semmler is important in advancing the legislation.
“We think Congress can help by providing a small tax incentive for companies that participate in their employees’ student debts,” Aronson said. “But this will be much more likely to happen with a coalition of partners talking with their elected leaders about the student debt problem.”
“If students have these incurred debts … they can’t be doing other key economic functions such as buying homes or investing for the future if they’re constantly stuck in the past,” Nelson said. “It’s important from a student government institutional standpoint to be advocating for the best interest of students.”
As for USG’s participation, Semmler said he hopes to see more partnerships between campus representatives and student governments, and that USG can lead the way for student bodies’ voices.
“As student governments, it’s our obligation to not only assist students while they’re on campus but it’s our obligation to assist students once they leave campus and set them up for success,” Nelson said. “So if we can use our advocacy power, especially as a joint Big Ten and even beyond the Big Ten, then we have significant sway over our own congressional delegations.”