08.24.18

Port Huron Times-Herald: Sen. Peters touts bill to boost reverse scholarships

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters stopped by Port Huron Friday to announce legislation aimed to encourage reverse scholarships such as the Community Foundation of St. Clair County’s Come Home grants.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House.

Both measures would allow recipients to avoid paying income taxes on the grants.

“It’s pretty simple. If you get a scholarship today, that’s not taxable and goes to your education,” Peters said, speaking at the Underground business incubator. “With this program — and people don’t usually think of scholarships after graduation, so this truly is a very innovative program, here — we’ll give you a scholarship after graduation because we want you to come to our community.

"But that’s taxable," Peters said.

At present, Randy Maiers, president of the Community Foundation, said there is "no regulation, policy (or) language that really recognizes” the reverse scholarships as anything other than taxable income, which diminishes the value and effectiveness of the grants. 

The foundation's pioneering Come Home Award offers up to $15,000 to college graduates who move to St. Clair County.

With a primary focus on science, technology, engineering and math fields, recipients get four months to return and provide proof of employment.

Maiers said the reverse scholarships are one way of meeting the “challenge of luring college grads back to small-town America.”

In the program’s two years, he said the foundations has granted 13 scholarships. Other foundations have copied the idea.            

Officials have said it’s particularly beneficial for — and geared toward — graduates loaded down by college debt. 

“The volume of debt we’re seeing is so phenomenal we actually went back to our board and said, ‘Instead of a seven-year window, we need to expand it to a 10-year window,’ because we’re seeing loan payments over 20 years,” Maiers said. “So, how could a young couple buy a house when they have 20 years of debt payments? The other thing that shocked us is nationally, if you Google student debt averages, it’ll tell you the average is about 31,000. We’re over 50 applications … our average of that is 80,000.”

Peters didn’t say when the Senate bill would be introduced.

Prior to the announcement, Peters swung through Marine City, visiting the Inn on Water Street and learning of growth in local theater. He also visited the St. Clair Inn project site, ZF Manufacturing, and toured developments in Port Huron by bus.

Following his announcement, he was to speak to the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon at Sperry’s Dinnerhouse.

“It’s really about economic development and how I can continue to support that in this region,” Peters said. “What I saw today is incredibly exciting. Lots happening.

"And as Randy already alluded to, the federal government can play two roles. We can be helpful, as I’m hoping we can get this legislation passed to help the Community Foundation. And we can stay out of the way, and I’m all about staying out of the way, too, to be sure that some of the very positive things that are happening don’t get bogged down.”


By:  Jackie Smith
Source: Port Huron Times-Herald