MADISON, Wis., March 29 (UPI) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker named a former state spokeswoman to lead outreach efforts to address the state's higher-than-average student loan debt, but critics said it isn't enough.
Cheryl Weiss will take on the newly created role of student loan debt specialist, working with students and parents to address debt management, education decision making and "assist current and future student loan borrowers with inquiries and direct them to information and applicable resources."
Weiss formerly worked in the state's department of financial institutions as a spokeswoman and information technology specialist.
Walker, a Republican, said Weiss will help borrowers better understand flexible repayment options available through the federal government and "other lending solutions."
"College affordability is a priority for our administration," Walker said. "The creation of this position builds on our historic four-year tuition freeze for the UW System and our college affordability package."
The announcement drew criticism from One Wisconsin Now, a left-leaning advocacy group. Many in the state have called for allowing student loans to be refinanced, like mortgages and car loans. Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now's executive director said the new position is simply "reassigning a bureaucrat to answer the phone."
"This sounds like the worst job in state government: Answer the phone to tell 1 million student loan borrowers why Scott Walker opposes allowing them to refinance their loans, just like you can a mortgage," Ross said.
Walker also introduced a series of bills to address college costs and growing student loan debt. The bills will increase funding for grants for technical college students, provide emergency grants to college students facing unexpected financial crises, develop a program to connect students with internships and provide a financial literacy education system to student loan borrowers and their families.
Democratic state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said the bills are "anemic" and do nothing to address the problems borrowers have with repaying their student loans.
In Wisconsin, and across the nation, student loan borrowers are struggling to repay their loans. At $1.2 trillion nationwide, federal student loan debt is the largest source of consumer debt outside mortgages. Of those, 7.5 million borrowers are severely behind in payments. In Wisconsin, roughy 1 million borrowers owe about $19 billion.
"These Republican bills do nothing to address the burden of student debt and the people of Wisconsin shouldn't fall for the Republicans' lack of action with these modest election-year smoke and mirrors," Barca said.