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Proposed bill would forgive medical school debt for coronavirus health care workers

A proposal to forgive student loans would include nurses, doctors, researchers, lab workers, and other health care professionals responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

NEW YORK — A New York congresswoman has proposed forgiving student loan debt for health care workers treating coronavirus patients on the front lines of COVID-19 pandemic.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act on Tuesday, a day before National Nurses Day. The lawmaker said she wants to try and help alleviate the burden of student loan debt and attract medical professionals in various specialties to lend their expertise to the COVID-19 response efforts.

“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 Carolyn B. Maloney.

If passed, the bill would establish a federal and private loan forgiveness program for debt collected by individuals receiving 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.

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The eligibility for loan forgiveness 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.

Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the federal government to provide a 50% hazard pay bonus for essential public workers on the front lines. 

Dr. Manuel Penton III, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, believes Maloney's proposal is a better way to financially support health care workers. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, doctors on average leave medical school with $200,000 in debt. 

"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 class backgrounds and who could not afford to become doctors and nurses without taking on this debt," Penton said. 

"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," Maloney added. "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.” 

A bill proposed by Maloney in March included widespread student loan forgiveness, but capped it at $30,000 and was applied only to public loans. Her new bill would not have a cap on debt relief.

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The bill has been endorsed by the American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, American Federation of Teachers and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

View the full legislation below: