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U.S. representative Pramila Jayapal in May 2016.

U.S. representative Pramila Jayapal of the Seventh Congressional District and U.S. senator Bernie Sanders are proposing a bill to significantly reduce student debt with free college options and the ability to refinance.

The College for All Act—introduced first in the Senate Monday afternoon and cosponsored by five senators including Elizabeth Warren—would make community colleges free for everyone and four-year public universities free for students from families earning up to $125,000. It would also allow those who already have student loan debt to refinance.

The legislation hopes to cover about 80 percent of the population, Jayapal said, and proposes that federal money pay for two-thirds of low-income students' tuition and the state pay one-third. The act also includes black colleges and tribal institutions.

Sanders introduced the College for All Act in 2015 to eliminate tuition and fees at public institutions, but the legislation didn't make it out of the Committee on Finance. (And there weren't any cosponsors.)

Jayapal said she thinks the bill could be successful after last year's election, when the issue gained "enormous prominence" in Sanders's campaign. Nobody expected president Donald Trump's administration to ditch repealing Obamacare either, she said, but she hopes there can be a strong movement.  

"That's what we're going to have to do here as well," Jayapal said in an interview with Seattle Met. "This is not a partisan issue. ... Now it's up to everybody across the country to make this real."

Student loan debt in the country now totals $1.31 trillion from more than 44 million people. But it's unlikely under the Trump administration for the number to go down anytime soon. 

The new budget released last month proposed a $9 billion cut to the Department of Education in 2018 (a 13 percent reduction). It eliminated the Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides need-based aid to low-income students, and reduces the work-study program "to ensure funds go to undergraduate students who would benefit most," the proposal stated.

Updated April 5, 2017, at 10:17am: This post contains links to the bills and information on the College for All Act in 2015.

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