U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is partnering with an Arizona Democrat on a bill that aims to reduce student loan debt and make college more affordable for students.

The Earn to Learn Act, which Romney and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, introduced on Thursday, would create a college matched-savings program for qualifying low-income students to help pay for tuition, textbooks, fees and other education-related expenses.

Through the program, every dollar contributed by a student would be matched with $8 from a participating state or nonprofit, which would be awarded grants.

In a press release on Friday, Romney said that the legislation “will help students pursue their education by equipping them with the financial resources and knowledge they need to attend college, career, and technical schools without the burden of being saddled with debt when they graduate.”

“We must do better to ensure American students have the skills and training necessary to pursue good-paying jobs that keep up with our changing economy,” the Utah senator said.

The text of the legislation states that its purpose is to “provide a much-needed supplement to traditional financial aid options through matched savings” and to “give students the tools to succeed by giving students the opportunity to invest in their education and to improve their financial capability through financial empowerment training and success coaching.”

Additionally, the bill aims to help students “develop healthy financial habits and life skills, minimize or eliminate student loan debt and “prepare to embark on a lifetime of healthy financial practices after graduation.”

The legislation is modeled after Arizona’s Earn to Learn program, which has produced over $8.5 million in federal funding for Arizona students since January 2013, according to the program’s website.

The goal of the Earn to Learn program, as stated in its mission statement, is to use matched-savings scholarships, success coaching, financial capability education and workforce development to empower “low- to moderate-income students to successfully complete college.”

“For nearly a decade, Earn to Learn has been changing the lives of Arizona students who may have thought a college education was financially out of reach,” Kate Hoffman, founder and CEO of Earn to Learn, said in the press release. “I applaud Sens. Sinema and Romney for their efforts to make this innovative program available to students across the country, fostering economic opportunity for low-income American families and helping to break the cycle of multigenerational poverty.”

Sinema spoke highly of Arizona’s Earn to Learn program, which she said “helps Arizona students save for school while teaching the importance of money-management.”

“Education was my key to opportunity, and I’m committed to ensuring all Arizona students have the same access to higher education that I did,” the Arizona senator said.

The bill cites “skyrocketing costs” of higher education that “are outpacing available financial aid” and notes that individuals in the U.S. currently owe more than $1.5 trillion in student debt.

Romney and Sinema originally introduced the Earn to Learn Act in the Senate in March 2020, though Congress never voted on the bill.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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