NEW YORK – Congress voted Friday to keep the interest rate on subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent. Even so, the burden on students is still heavy, and that's where the city of Niagara Falls, New York sees an opportunity.
Just half a mile away from the natural beauty of Niagara Falls is a downtown that has cascaded into disrepair, hemorrhaging jobs, businesses and people. Since 1960, the city's lost half its population.
It's a city in need of ideas. And after only two months on the job, 30-year-old director of community development, Seth Piccarrillo, has a big one: Pay young professionals to move to his hometown, guaranteeing $7,000 over two years towards their student loan debt.
"These college grads have a need," said Piccarrillo. "We have a need because we want them to live here, so we decided to put the two together."
Piccarillo says he's already received over 200 enthusiastic emails from California to the Carolinas.
"'I would love to be part of the revitalization of a declining, in terms of population, American city,'" Piccarrillo read from a letter. "'I think this would be an absolutely amazing experience.' That's exactly the type of urban pioneer we're looking for."
Angie Franco plans to apply. She lives in the Bronx, which is 400 miles away from Niagara Falls. Next spring, she'll graduate with $20,000 in student loan debt. For her, the appeal is obvious.
"Why not?" she asked. "If you're looking to move somewhere, and there's a town that's offering help you pay your student loans, wouldn't you check that out first before just moving to any random place?"
Longtime resident Jim Orr welcomes the idea. "If we can help them pay off their student loans, by coming back to Niagara Falls, encouraging them to work, maybe even open a business here, that would be terrific."
Not only terrific, Piccarillo says, but without population growth, at stake is Niagara Falls' future as a city.
"It's about survival. If we dip below 50,000, we will lose access to federal and state resources," he said. "So attracting new people has to be the priority."
This week, the city decided to take the plunge — approving $200,000 in funding for an initial twenty young graduates.