New Bill Would Forgive Student Debt For Frontline Heroes Fighting COVID

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has introduced a bill that could forgive healthcare workers’ student loan debt in compensation for their heroic efforts on the front line of the coronavirus crisis.

If passed, the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act could make a real difference for health workers.

Many medical professionals still owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical school debt and are not interested in being placated with hazard pay.

via Forgive Student Loan Debt for Healthcare Providers Responding to COVID-19

In April, Gov. Cuomo had proposed a 50% bonus for essential workers who are risking their lives during the pandemic

“Essential public workers are the ones on the front lines every day carrying us through this crisis,” Cuomo said at the time. “We must ensure their efforts and sacrifice are appropriately recognized.”

A bonus sounds nice, but if you’re a medical student entering the workforce saddled with $200,000 in student loan debt, there’s got to be a smarter solution.

Dr. Manuel Penton III, 32, told ABC News the proposed hazard pay bonus wouldn’t go very far for him.

“I’m looking at a student loan debt of $318,000… That few extra thousand dollars, while it may make a big difference to some people, for me, most of that money is going to go back into paying off my student loan debt,” the young doctor said.

And other medical professionals seem to agree. Last month, more than 500,000 people petitioned Congress to include student loan debt forgiveness for doctors in the forthcoming stimulus bill.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association (AMA) and other healthcare organizations appealed to Congress, requesting student loan forgiveness of at least $20,000 for newly graduated doctors with debts totaling over $200,000.

The AMA, America’s largest association of physicians, backed The Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act.

The bill was introduced Tuesday by New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.

“We owe more than thanks and cheers at 7 p.m.,” Maloney said during the press briefing. “We have an obligation to ensure men and women are relieved of the debt they incurred to train for this critical work.”

The proposed bill would forgive federal and private student loans alike for medical professionals in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, and for medical researchers seeking treatments and cures.

The new bill differs from one proposed in March for student loan debt forgiveness across disciplines, applicable to public loans up to $30,000 only.

Maloney said the bill for medical professionals is more likely to pass. Putting this kind of support behind frontline doctors and nurses could potentially alleviate health worker shortages in COVID-19 epicenters like New York City. Not to mention, doctors and nurses will be able to let go of fears that their families could be left responsible for the crippling student debt if they were to die of the coronavirus in the line of duty.

Among many colleagues who have tested positive for COVID-19, two of Penton’s coworkers have died due to the virus.

“There are so many emotions that go along with that,” Penton said. “We can’t go to the funerals. I can’t even find where the gravesite is. There is no sense of closure.”

Maloney’s address also included stories of the tragic suicides of an emergency room doctor and an EMT last month, who each took their own lives in response to the onslaught of COVID-19 patients they’d been required to treat.

She calls for more support for these essential workers as they risk their lives and wellbeing, and according to Penton, debt forgiveness will help.

“Finally, people are coming together and cheering for us and care about the position we’re being put in,” he said. “There’s no argument about what would support us the most.”

Susan LaMarca

Written by Susan LaMarca