Health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic would have some of their student loan debt forgiven under a new bill introduced in Congress.
The “Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act,” introduced by New York Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney on Tuesday, would create a program that forgives federal and private loans obtained “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,” according to a release from her office. Doctors, nurses, medical researchers, lab workers and other health care workers responding to the pandemic would be eligible along with others who are giving their support to fight the virus.
Maloney said there is an “obligation to ensure that they are relieved of the debt they incurred to train for this critical work.”
“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,” the Democrat said in a statement. “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.”
She continued, “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 legislation comes as the surge in coronavirus cases continues to strain the medical industry, putting pressure on health care workers who are in need of not only supplies, but additional staff on all fronts to combat the virus. In March, Congress suspended payments and waived interest on federal student loans for six months. The move provided immediate relief for anyone currently paying off their federal student loans, but they’ll have to restart payments again in October.
While Maloney’s support is significant given her position as chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, the bill’s future is unclear as congressional leaders negotiate another round of stimulus funding to respond to the Covid 19 outbreak. The legislation does offer a political messaging tool for Democrats to call attention to this issue, even if the bill itself has a long-shot of passing the Republican-controlled Senate.
The bill is cosponsored by Democratic Reps. Marc Veasey of Texas, Yvette D. Clarke of New York, Juan Vargas of California, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and others. The American Medical Association, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Federation of Teachers, and Association of American Medical Colleges support the bill.
“Physicians and medical residents play a critical role on the front line of the COVID-19 national emergency,” Matthew Shick, senior director of Government Relations & Regulatory Affairs at the AAMC, told CNN in a statement Wednesday. “In addition to the regular risks of providing medical care, many doctors are taking on unexpected new roles to address the pandemic — some voluntarily traveling across the county to help in hot spots.”
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the United States has topped more than 1 million and more than 71,000 people have died.