NEW HAMPSHIRE, along with the rest of the country, is in the midst of a student debt crisis. Borrowers in this state — our friends, families, and neighbors — are shouldering nearly $7 billion in student loan debt.

The time is now for New Hampshire to tackle the student debt crisis.

Today, over 184,000 Granite Staters owe, on average, more than $37,000 in student loan debt. And this burden is not limited to only young people. More than 23,000 Granite Staters over the age of 60 owe student loan debt — a 73% increase since 2012. New Hampshire borrowers are teachers, nurses, service members, and veterans. The people struggling with student loans are our neighbors, relatives, and coworkers.

These people are not asking for their loans to be erased. Our solutions are not about giving out free passes.

These are people who have faithfully paid their bills month after month, year after year.

However, because of the illegal practice perpetrated by student loan companies, these people find themselves being pulled deeper into debt.

Too many of these out-of-state companies add insult to injury for New Hampshire student loan borrowers by routinely losing paperwork, providing bad information and denying borrowers access to key protections that can save them thousands of dollars and keep them from unnecessarily defaulting.

Some student loan servicers are saddling teachers with thousands of dollars in debt that should have been discharged, steering social workers and other public servants away from loan forgiveness and blocking veterans from accessing military protections they earned through service to our country. Granite Staters deserve better.

With the federal government walking away from the student loan crisis, it has left a $1.6 trillion black hole in the middle of our country and a $7 billion economic black hole in the middle of New Hampshire. That’s a black hole our state simply can’t afford. This is money that should be going into our state — not to the shareholders of billion-dollar companies. This year, we have the chance to make sure New Hampshire borrowers know that their state is on their side.

When Granite Staters make their mortgage or car payment each month, they send their money off knowing that if things go wrong, New Hampshire has their back.

Shouldn’t the same be true for student loan companies?

HB 1500 would do just that. The bill would require student loan companies to be licensed and follow common-sense rules. And if a company breaks the law, the bill ensures that this state can hold that company to account.

If we don’t act, predatory companies will continue to sink thousands of our friends, families and neighbors deeper into debt. Debt that will drag down not just them, but our towns, cities and the economic prospects of this state.

The solutions to end this crisis are right in front of us. Now is the time to act.

Rep. Willis Griffith is a Democrat representing Manchester’s Ward 11 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.