Revenue hosts student loan debt forum

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According to Forbes magazine, student loan debt reimbursement is ‘The Hottest Employee Benefit of 2018!’”

Student loan debt reimbursement is also one of the most pressing issues facing members at the Dept. of Revenue and they would like to see the issue addressed in MAPE’s 2019-2021 contract. More than 150 Revenue employees and Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly attended a MAPE-sponsored forum focusing on student loan debt on Mar. 27.

DOR Student Loan Debt Forum

“Student loan debt is a national crisis, and it’s an issue we heard come up again and again through hundreds of small group listening sessions and one-on-one conversations with Revenue employees,” Region 4 Negotiations Representative Carolyn Murphy said.

She added, “Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. By 2025, they will make up 75 percent of the labor pool, and 70 percent of them will be graduating with loans. When we look at MAPE-represented employees at Revenue, we see that student loan debt isn’t only covering the millennials but spans all generations, divisions and classifications. 

DOR Student Loan Debt Forum

According to a recent MAPE survey, 63 percent of the Dept. of Revenue members reported graduating with student loan debt. More than half of those still with student loan debt are not confident they can pay it off while working in state government. The numbers are even more start when you look at individual classifications. For example, 72 percent of Revenue tax specialists reported that they are not confident they can pay off their debt.

Right photo (L to R): Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly, Local 401 President Kristine Moody, Region 4 Negotiations Representative Carolyn Murphy, Tax Research Analyst Sally Wakefield.

As part of its retention and recruitment efforts, the Dept. of Human Services (DHS) began offering a student loan payment reimbursement program during this current 2017-2019 contract. Local 1701’s Jennifer Johnson, a behavior analyst with the Minn. Sex Offenders Program at Moose Lake, was able to participate in the program.

“I applied for the DHS reimbursement and showed officials how I paid my student loans for the past year, it was very easy documentation. The stipulation was I had to apply the money I got back to the remainder of the student loan. I want to pay off what debt I have so our family can enjoy our time together,” Johnson said.

“I want members to feel valued in their jobs, whether it’s to have student loan or tuition reimbursement. When you invest in and validate employees, you are really investing in your agency,” Johnson added.

Julia Marley, a collections officer for Revenue, said her division is “hurting for people right now.” She said they tried hiring 30 people in January but were able to hire only 12 qualified people.

“I really love my job and am well-suited for it. If we added student loan reimbursement, we would be able to improve our quality of life and attract more people,” Marley said.

Sally Wakefield, a tax research analyst, went back to school later in life. “I was a single mom raising four kids, so my student loans were deferred. I’m going to be holding off retirement and other things to pay off my loans,” Wakefield said.

“I love my job. Revenue prides itself on the professionalism of employees and the services we deliver to Minnesotans. A student loan reimbursement would expand the applicant pool and allow the state to be competitive,” she added.

DOR Student Loan Debt Forum

Ronald Dixon (pictured left) told colleagues he “became an auditor through the tuition reimbursement policy here at Revenue.” He was quick to point out that the policy did not cover his entire business degree, however.

“My wife and I are financially responsible people, but we still have student debts totaling nearly $50,000. This is affecting our making major life decisions like buying a house and having children,” Dixon said.

“The Revenue Dept. has the opportunity to help countless employees through a student loan reimbursement program. This would also improve employee recruitment, retention and career opportunities,” Dixon said.

Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly told the group that “your stories identified how important and complex this issue is.” She mentioned myriad issues including keeping tuition low, regulation around selling student loans and other factors adding to the complexity of student loan debt.

“This is something to be brought to a bigger table. How do we get legislative support – how to we communicate to them?” Commissioner Bauerly asked the employees. “I look forward to hearing more about this conversation as we move forward.”

Local 401 President Kristine Moody said she is hopeful the partnership moves forward, and the commissioner sees “the great impact student loan reimbursement would have on Revenue and other government employees across the state. Hopefully, she is supportive of our role in getting this into supplemental bargaining.”

To watch videos of the forum speakers, click here: