Reps. Meehan, White introduce bill allowing use of 529 funds for apprenticeship programs

U.S. Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ) recently called on Congress to pass legislation they introduced that will allow workers in apprenticeship programs to use funds from 529 plans, which are college savings plans, to supplement or pay for their education.

Their bill, the 529 Opening Paths to Invest in Our Nation’s Students (OPTIONS) Act (H.R. 3395), enables those in apprenticeship programs to fund tools and equipment for the program out of a “529” college savings plan.

“’529’ plans are a terrific tool that makes colleges much more affordable for middle-class families,” said Meehan, who visited the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers [IBEW] Local 654 in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, this week to push for passage of the bill. “They allow families to finance their education tax-free and last year more than 11 million Americans invested more than $250 billion in 529 plans. But while they help individuals seeking a college education, they don’t help those who have sought careers in the trades. These unions have apprenticeship programs that are absolutely invaluable. They take countless individuals and teach them the skills they need for a good-paying middle-class job.”

Meehan was joined at IBEW 654 by Norcross, Delaware County Councilman Dave White, IBEW 654 Business Manager Paul Mullen, Anthony Gallagher of Steamfitters Local 420, and Kevin Tighe of the National Electrical Contractors Association.

He added that despite the obvious value of an education through apprenticeship, the law today doesn’t give enrollees the same chance to use tax-advantaged funds for their tools, textbooks, and equipment as is given to college students.

“This isn’t right, and it’s something that ought to change. That’s what our bill does. It will give individuals more of an incentive to embark on an apprenticeship and it will make it more affordable when they do it,” Meehan said.

Norcross, an electrician by trade, said an apprenticeship program shaped his life, taking him from community college to construction work to Congress.

“Education and job training is not one-size-fits-all – and the rules for savings plans should reflect that truth,” Norcross said. “The four-year college experience is critical for many, but it’s not for everyone, so it’s important we allow 529s to be used in more than one way that helps shape our workforce. We need electricians and computer programmers, just like we need doctors and judges – and this bill levels the playing field for the students and future workers who start out in apprenticeships.”