Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: My national public service plan would give all Americans a path to the middle class

Programming Alert: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will answer questions at a Fox News town hall Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on Fox News Channel. “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace will moderate the town hall, which takes place in Dubuque, Iowa.

At the heart of every conversation I have on the campaign trail is how to ensure that every young American has the chance to reach their full potential.

For too many, the shot for a brighter future is simply out of reach. They’re ready and willing to invest in their communities and take on tough jobs, but college costs continue to skyrocket and students graduate saddled with debt that too often keeps them from buying houses, building families and achieving their dreams.

Americans need solutions and they need a leader with big, bold ideas to tackle our student debt crisis, to make higher education and skills training available for all who want it, and to create the next generation of public service leaders.

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Here’s mine.

My agenda for national public service would provide a pathway to the middle class for all Americans and would ensure that those who dedicate themselves to their communities are rewarded for their efforts.

My proposal draws on the model of the GI Bill, which has provided access to opportunity for generations of Americans who have defended our nation through military service – a national investment we must always be working to improve and expand for our men and women in uniform.

This plan will also train generations of young leaders, from all walks of life, to work together to address the big problems facing our country. What better way to counter President Trump’s division than to inspire and enable young people to do good with their lives?

This plan will  train generations of young leaders, from all walks of life, to work together to address the big problems facing our country. What better way to counter President Trump’s division than to inspire and enable young people to do good with their lives?

Here’s how my plan would work:

Individuals who commit to serve one year of public service would be awarded tax-free financial assistance to attend two years of public or community college tuition-free, and those who serve two years would be able to attend four years free.

Those public servants who don’t want to attend a public college or who already have received an undergraduate degree can use the equivalent tax-free financial assistance towards the cost of a private education, to get a graduate degree, to pay down existing student debt, to participate in an accredited job-training program, to start a business, or to purchase a home.

Beyond the financial benefit, these public servants would be filling critically needed roles in our communities. These include special education aides and teaching assistants, home health aides and nurses for nonprofit providers, social workers, public defenders and first responders, as well as certain nonprofit work and jobs in federal, state, local and tribal governments.

My plan would help graduates by improving the current federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to assist qualified public servants with any debt beyond the new financial award.

This plan would also prioritize lifting up public service leaders in communities that have been left behind. A bonus financial award to pay down college debt, train for an in-demand job, start a business, or purchase a home would be made available to qualified graduates who locate to communities in particular need, such as rural and urban areas facing persistent poverty, population loss, or shortages in critical services.

This is especially important in areas of Iowa and New Hampshire that are losing talented students to other cities and states with higher-paying jobs.

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As president, I would have my plan administered by a new Cabinet-level director of national public service to elevate the priority of public service for the government and our nation. State and local boards would ensure that community and regional public service needs are being met through federal service programs and incentives to attract public service professionals to high-need areas.

The crushing debt and limited financial freedom faced by far too many Americans is a big problem to solve, but it’s also a unique opportunity to meet a problem with a ready solution – providing every American who wants to answer the call to public service with the support they need to succeed.