Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney introduced the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act on Tuesday, May 5 to alleviate the burden of student loan debt for health workers on the front lines of COVID-19, and help attract more medical professionals to respond to the health crisis.
“Frontline health workers are delivering care to the sickest patients and putting their own safety at great risk in order to keep doing their jobs,” Maloney said. “And in return, I believe that we have an obligation to ensure that they are relieved of the debt they incurred to train for this critical work — in graduate degree programs or other professional certification.”
The bill would establish a federal and private loan forgiveness program for loans that health care workers acquired to receive their medical and professional training. Eligibility for the program extends to health care workers — including nurses, doctors, medical researchers, lab workers and others in the health care system — who have made significant contributions to COVID-19 patient care, medical research, testing and enhancing the capacity of the health care system to respond to this urgent crisis.
Maloney already sponsors a larger bill that would reduce all student loans, but she wanted to introduced a targeted approach to provide immediate relief for health care workers taking care of COVID-19 patients while putting themselves and their families at risk.
“Health care workers are worrying about their own health and how it will affect their families. They should not have to worry about their financial security after the crisis has passed,” she said. “That is a burden that we can lift right now. And this bill will do that. It will help take care of the people taking care of all of us.”
During a virtual press conference, Maloney was joined by health care professionals and educators, who all said the legislation offers frontline health workers a tangible “thank you” and will benefit the middle class in the long run.
“Nurses and other health care professionals are our most valuable resource in fighting COVID-19. As these frontline workers heroically provide care at the bedside of critically ill patients, their service should be recognized,” said Eileen Sullivan-Marx, Dean of the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and President of the American Academy of Nursing. “Graduate student loan forgiveness would alleviate their financial burdens and acknowledge their sacrifice during this unprecedented time.”
Nicole Kirchhoffer an alumna of NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and is currently a nurse service excellence manager at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, said that calling student loan graduate debt a burden is “an absolute understatement.”
“We need a highly educated workforce and, unfortunately, that comes at a very high price,” Kirchhoffer said. “There was a point in my career that I had to sit and really have a discussion with my family on not going forward and achieving my professional dreams. Like many others, no one really comes into nursing for salary; we do this because it is a calling and it is a passion. But the the cost is certainly something that we have to consider and many nurses in my staff are ambivalent about going back to school and achieving their dreams because of the cost associated with it — but we need nothing less than a highly educated workforce.”
The legislation is endorsed by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), American Medical Association (AMA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Steven Cohen (D-TN), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Jesús G. “Chuy” Garía (D-IL), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).