(CBS) – House Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday to forgive student debt for health care workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. If passed, the bill would establish a national forgiveness program for federal and private loans.
“We own more than thanks and cheers at 7 p.m.,” New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, who introduced the bill, said in a press briefing. “We have an obligation to ensure men and women are relieved of the debt they incurred to train for this critical work.”
She added in a statement that health care workers “should not have to worry about their financial security after the crisis has passed.”
Nine other Democrats have cosponsored the bill.
Under the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act, health care workers including nurses, doctors, medical residents, researchers, interns and lab workers would be eligible for debt forgiveness if they have made “significant contributions” to the COVID-19 response. Maloney said it could also entice medical professionals in other specialties to contribute their expertise to the battle against the pandemic.
Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced a bill in March for general student loan forgiveness, but it applied only to public loans and was capped at $30,000. Maloney’s bill has no cap or limits on the kind of loans that could be forgiven. She suggested a bill focused on health workers would be more likely to pass.
The average debt for Class of 2019 medical students is around $200,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Hazard pay and financial support for medical workers appear to have broad bipartisan support in Washington, and the Trump administration has also backed the idea. But COVID-19 relief packages passed so far have not included hazard pay for medical workers or essential workers in other fields, such as retail and food distribution.
Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) last week proposed a “Patriot Pay” program giving a raise many essential workers, and Senate Democrats called for a “Heroes Fund” in April.