The average nurse graduates with $47,321 in student loan debt. But two new bills from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI-D), who serves on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, would cancel student debt for teachers and healthcare workers. The bills are designed to support essential workers and encourage more aspiring professionals to enter the field.
“We owe so much to our health care workers and teachers – something we grew to appreciate even more during the COVID-19 crisis,” Whitehouse said. “This legislation honors the contributions of these public servants by helping them to wipe the slate clean of student loan debt.”
If passed, the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act would make several sweeping changes to the country’s student debt program.
It would cancel student loans for healthcare workers who have made “significant contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic.” This includes healthcare workers who contributed to the medical response (e.g., patient care, medical research, or testing). It would apply to both private and federal student loans.
Meanwhile, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Improvement Act would increase the amount of student loan forgiveness available to teachers, provide $30,000 in student loan relief rather than the current $17,500, would apply to “highly qualified” teachers as defined by the Department of Education, and give out $15,000 instead of $5,000 for other teachers.
The Biden Administration has paused the national student loan repayment program three times throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to give borrowers a break while the economy recovers. The President is also weighing federal action on student loans. Payments are set to resume after August 31st, but the President could pause the repayment schedule for a fourth time.
Officials recognize that record-high inflation is making it difficult for people to resume making payments on their student loans.
“We recognize that while the economy has improved, many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, indicating that the student loan pause could be further extended as a result.
But borrowers say they are still in the dark about the status of their student loans. Borrowers need time to prepare their finances and it’s not clear if payments will resume in September.
The Education Department said it will give borrowers “ample notice” prior to payments resuming, and a “long on-ramp” to ensure borrowers have enough time to get ready to make payments. But time is running out.
Around 180 advocacy organizations recently sent a letter to President Biden, urging him to again extend the student loan repayment program. The letter came amid reports that the White House is considering restarting student loan payments as a way of combating inflation.
“We…strongly urge your administration not to collect money from people with student debt as a tactic to fight inflation,” the coalition wrote in the letter.
“The pause on most federal student loan payments during the pandemic has provided much-needed breathing room for… over 1.7 million educators, nurses and public employees, along with millions of other borrowers who feel pauperized by crushing student loan debt,” said Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers. “A hasty restart of payments now, in this time of rising costs, and while thousands are still waiting for their loan forgiveness applications to be processed, would be devastating.”
President Biden has already canceled over $15 billion in student loans since taking office. He is also canceling $6.5 billion in additional student loans by beefing up the country’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which lets borrowers in public service “count” previously ineligible student loan payments toward the requirements to get their student loans canceled.
Nurses and healthcare workers may see additional relief through the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act, but it’s not clear if it has enough political support to get through Congress.