Forty of the 50 eligible Kansas counties have joined the Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZs) partnership, and 127 applicants from across the country have applied to the student loan forgiveness program, according to the Kansas Department of Commerce.
"We are pleased to have an 80 percent participation rate in the Rural Opportunity Zones partnership, but we hope to have a 100 percent participation rate," said Kansas Commerce Secretary Pat George. "The response to the program has been great and should only get better as the remaining counties opt in. ROZs are proving to be a key incentive in recruiting individuals and families into rural Kansas."
The ROZs program offers student loan forgiveness of up to $3,000 per year for five years for individuals that graduate from an accredited post-secondary college or technical school. In addition, people moving from out-of-state could be eligible for 100 percent state income tax reimbursement, if they have lived outside of Kansas for at least the past five years and have had Kansas source income of less than $10,000 per year over the past five years.
The counties participating in student loan forgiveness program, so far, are Barber, Cheyenne, Clark, Cloud, Decatur, Edwards, Graham, Greeley, Greenwood, Hamilton, Harper, Hodgeman, Jewell, Kearny, Kingman, Kiowa, Lane, Lincoln, Logan, Marion, Mitchell, Morton, Ness, Norton, Phillips, Pratt, Rawlins, Rooks, Rush, Russell, Scott, Sherman, Smith, Stafford, Stanton, Thomas, Trego, Wallace, Wichita and Woodson.
A few counties have joined with businesses and nonprofit organizations to help provide funds for student loan repayment, George said.
"Some counties have been very innovative in looking for ways to raise money to provide for their part of the incentive, and we certainly want to encourage that activity," George added.
Applicants have applied to 35 of the 40 participating counties, and many of the applicants are recent college graduates. Of the 127 applicants: 35 are working in education; 24 are working in healthcare (nurses, physicians, and chiropractors); three are engineers; three are veterinarians; and 82 have family connections to rural Kansas. Four of the applicants plan to start businesses in a ROZs county.
Forty-two of the applicants are moving to a ROZS county from outside the state: 11 from Colorado; four from Nebraska; three from Oklahoma; three from Missouri; two from Arkansas; two from Michigan; three from Iowa; two from Alabama; two from North Carolina; two from Pennsylvania; and one each from Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, New York, Texas, California, Tennessee and Florida.
The application form for the student loan repayment program is available online on the Department's website at KansasCommerce.com/RuralOpportunityZones. A printed version of the form can be requested by contacting Dan Lara, public information officer for the Department, at 785-296-3760 or [email protected].
The state tax exemption is entirely state financed, so all ROZs-designated counties are automatic participants in that part of the program. There is not a formal application procedure for this part of the program. Questions about the tax exemption should be directed to the Department of Revenue at 785-368-8222.
The program designates 50 counties as ROZs counties. In addition to those already listed above, the others are Chautauqua, Comanche, Elk, Gove, Osborne, Pawnee, Republic, Sheridan, Washington and Wilson.