Senator Whitehouse wants to cancel student loan debt for frontline health workers and teachers

PROVIDENCE — Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Wednesday introduced a bill that would forgive student loan debt for frontline healthcare workers and teachers across the country.

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Enhancement Act would provide $30,000 in relief instead of $17,500 for “highly qualified” teachers as defined by the Department of Education. Other teachers would receive $15,000 in aid instead of the current $5,000. Representative Elaine Luria, a Democrat from Virginia, introduced mirror legislation in the House.

The Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Healthcare Workers Act would establish a federal and private loan forgiveness program for healthcare workers who have made significant contributions during the pandemic.

It is not clear what contributions would be classified as “significant” in order to receive a debt cancellation amount, or what relief would be offered.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, introduced the bill in the House — the second time she has introduced it. In the legislation, first introduced in April 2021, Maloney wrote that the U.S. Department of Education was to implement a program to write off the outstanding balance of principal and interest owed on federal student loans for borrowers and that the U.S. Treasury Department should repay, “in full,” the outstanding balance of principal and interest owed on “certain” private student loans to borrowers. Frontline workers who died from contracting COVID-19 would also be eligible for debt forgiveness under the bill.

“We owe so much to our healthcare workers and our teachers — something we’ve come to appreciate even more during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Whitehouse, who is also a member of the Senate Finance Committee. “This bill honors the contributions of these public servants by helping them wipe the slate clean of student debt.

Industry and labor leaders came out in favor of Whitehouse’s legislation. Frank Flynn, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, said a number of the organization’s members started their careers with “astonishing” student loan debt while earning significantly lower salaries than their private sector peers.

“This often leads to a delay in the financial security needed for important milestones such as marriage or home ownership,” Flynn said, and added that debt forgiveness would help attract and retain a hand. – quality workmanship.

Patrick Quinn, executive vice president of SEIU 1199NE, which represents more than 29,000 healthcare workers in New England, said rebuilding the workforce has been difficult because of the devastation it has suffered due to the pandemic.

It doesn’t help, he said, that the training requirements for entry-level positions and tenured healthcare workers are “expensive and undermine our best efforts.”

Lawrence E. Purtill, president of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, said the legislation is a “step toward easing the burden” on currently employed educators and front-line workers.

“Higher education should only mean greater opportunity, not deeper crippling debt,” he said.

Alexa Gagosz can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.

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