Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (DNY) joined with health care professionals and educators on May 5 to introduce new legislation, the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act, to alleviate the burden of student loan debt for frontline health care workers and help attract medical professionals in various specialties to lend their expertise to the response to COVID-19.
“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,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “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… 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. 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.”
The Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act would establish a federal and private loan forgiveness program for loans acquired to receive medical and professional training held by health care workers 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. Eligibility would extend to nurses, doctors, medical researchers, lab workers, and other health care professionals who are responding to the COVID-19 crisis in a variety of ways, and those who have shifted from their normal specialties to support the effort.
“Voting to pass the Student Debt Forgiveness for Frontline Health Care Workers Act into law would be the single most supportive action any lawmaker could take to help frontline healthcare workers like my colleagues and I,” said Dr. Manuel Penton III, Pediatric Infectious Disease, SUNY Downstate Medical Center. “Hazard pay is nice but it pales in comparison to the immense student loan debt accrued by the majority of physicians and nurses in this country who, like myself, come from middle and lower income backgrounds and who could not afford to become doctors and nurses without taking on this debt. A vote for this bill is a vote for the middle class and any politician would find a plethora of support for a solution to this kitchen table issue affecting families of all political affiliations.”
“Student loan forgiveness would help boost morale among nurses because it is vital that nurses feel their country cares just as much about them as they care about their country,” said Nicole Kirchhoffer DNP(c),MSN, RN, CEN. “Putting my life in imminent danger to provide care for those inflicted with COVID-19 while having graduate student loan debt looming over me and my family is psychologically distressing and distracting in a time where I need to be more focused than ever.”
“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, PhD, RN, FAAN, 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.”
“Our doctors are heroically serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, selflessly committed every day to providing exemplary, compassionate care to patients who need it the most,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine.
The legislation is also endorsed by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), American Medical Association (AMA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Cosponsors of the bill include Reps. 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), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY).