New York, NY—During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, elected officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implored Americans to stay home to stop the spread of the virus, but frontline healthcare workers have remained on the front lines throughout the pandemic. To recognize their Herculean efforts, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) yesterday re-introduced legislation that would forgive frontline healthcare workers’ student loan debt.
Joined by nurses, union leaders and educators, Maloney announced the legislation, the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act, in front of the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing facility on E 26th Street and 1st Avenue.
“New York City was the epicenter of the epicenter. We really bore the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis. We were all told to stay home, to quarantine, to protect ourselves, but our nurses, our doctors, our assistants, our nurses’ aides—they were on the front lines out there working hard, saving lives, many of them became sick, many of them died,” said Maloney.
According to Maloney, the bill would establish a program within the Departments of Education and Treasury that would forgive all public and private graduate student loans, including loans administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, for health care workers who have made significant contributions to patient care, medical research and testing during the COVID-19 national emergency.
She also noted that the frontline healthcare workers eligible to apply for forgiveness under the bill would include doctors, residents, interns, fellows, medical researches, lab workers and other healthcare professionals who are responding to COVID-19.
The White House announced today an outline for President Joe Biden’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, which doesn’t include broad student loan forgiveness.
Still, Maloney will be working hard to pass the bill in Congress.
“But these are the frontline heroes of the pandemic that we are trying to respond to. They were on the frontlines,” Maloney said.
She then introduced Tessa Rabinowitz, an RN at Lenox Hill Hospital and a member of the New York Professional Nurses Union. She was nine months into her nursing career when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
“We gowned up and masked up night after night all without the certainty that the PPE would protect us and that could be the night we would contract the disease that was killing our patients before our eyes,” said Rabinowitz.
She’s incurred about $20,000 of student loan debt and is eager to apply what’s she learned in another role, but the debt is holding her back from pursing different career options in the healthcare field.
“How can I consider leaving the hospital and working in the community if it means taking a pay cut and further extending my loan payments? How can I consider a future in advanced practice if it actually means worsening my debt?” Rabinowitz said.
“Please support Congresswoman Maloney’s bill and show support to all of us who will be there to hold your hand in the face of crisis.”
Another RN, Dawn Marta Feldthouse, said that she entered the healthcare field because she wanted to serve and heal communities, but she incurred a large student loan debt in order to complete her training.
Fighting the pandemic has been both emotionally and physically exhausting.
“Many of us carry burdensome student loan debt that we struggle with even as we continue to make great personal sacrifice for our communities,” said Marta Feldthouse.
“Maloney’s bill to forgive student loan debt would be a life-changing gift to thank all of our selfless and devoted healthcare heroes.”
Maloney was instrumental in the eventual signing of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which provided compensation to 9/11 first responders and their survivors. Just as the firefighters, police officers and other first responders became the symbol of the fight to rebuild 20 years ago, the symbol of the fight to rebuild now is the healthcare professional.
“They are the true heroes and heroines of the COVID-19 crisis that we’re just recovering from,” said Maloney.
“The least we can do as a grateful nation is recognize their sacrifice, their burdens [and] make their life a little easier by forgiving their student loan debt.”
To date, the bill has been endorsed by a varied group of organizations including Weill Cornell Medicine, American Federation of Teachers, the New York State Nurses Association, the New York Professional Nurses Union and the Medical Society of the State of New York, among others.