Pennsylvania nurses could get up to $ 7,500 of their student loans repaid with COVID-19 relief dollars

Registered nurses in Pennsylvania may soon have some of their student loan debt paid off.

One-time student loan cancellation program will provide up to $ 7,500 in debt reduction under a program that the Pennsylvania Higher Education Aid Agency Board of Trustees has approved Thursday.

The Commonwealth Student Loan Relief Program for Nurses comes under the direction of Governor Tom Wolf using $ 5 million from the state’s share of federal dollars in the US bailout. This money can be used to meet emerging public health needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wolf administration hopes this debt relief will help the state deal with its nursing shortage that has worsened during the pandemic.

“Nursing is both a noble and a sought-after profession, and the pandemic has highlighted the continued need to support and retain our nurses,” said Wolf spokesperson Beth Rementer. “This program provides nurses with financial relief to stay in their profession and continue to provide critical patient care. “

Across Pennsylvania and across the country, nursing shortages have affected the level of care patients receive, ranging from longer wait times in emergency rooms to rushed or reduced care as officers organizations are trying to deal with the influx of patients that the pandemic has brought through the doors of their hospital or facility.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing programs in the United States produce approximately 170,000 nurses per year. However, 80,000 qualified applicants were turned down in 2019 due to insufficient teaching staff.

This loan cancellation program is intended to be a way of raising concerns about the number of nurses available to work in the Commonwealth and attracting more to the profession in the hope of future programs. financial aid, said Elizabeth McCloud, PHEAA’s vice president of state grants and special programs.

Selected nurses will receive relief of up to $ 2,500 per year for each year of work, starting in 2020, for up to three years. Applications will be available at pheaa.org/slrn from January 1 and will be accepted until March 1. This web page will also provide more information about the program.

“Few people deserve more financial help than the nurses in Pennsylvania who have worked so selflessly on the front lines to care for our sick and injured despite the many risks of COVID,” said County Representative Mike Peifer. of R-Pike, who chairs the PHEAA Board of Directors.

Based on the level of interest in this Pennsylvania nurses debt relief program expressed following last month’s announcement that it was on the horizon, PHEAA officials predict that demand will exceed the dollars available.

To address this issue, Waynesburg University Chancellor Timothy Thyreen, who chairs the board’s aid coordination and needs analysis committee, said beneficiaries will be randomly selected from a to ensure that each geographic region of the Commonwealth receives an equitable distribution of program dollars.

Specifically, PHEAA spokesperson Keith New said applications received during the three-month window will be grouped into regions of the state based on the county in which the applicant resides. Then, each geographic region will have a proportional sample of qualified candidates selected. For example, if 12% of applicants live in a particular region, then 12% of recipients will be randomly selected from that region.

Program rules require that student loan payments be made directly to federal or private loan officers on behalf of the recipient. Parent loans are not eligible. The total amount of the loan cancellation will not exceed the outstanding balance at the time of application and payment of relief funds.

Eligible applicants must be licensed by the Department of State and include registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified registered nurse practitioners, and those who worked in person at a qualified nursing facility who began work before December 31. of this year.

Qualified nursing care facilities include, but are not limited to, assisted living facilities, home care agencies, home care agencies, hospitals, independent living programs for the elderly, long-term care facilities , personal care homes and preschools in 12 schools.

Additionally, employers will need to certify the applicant’s employment stating that they worked the equivalent of more than 20 hours per week, averaged over the 12-month calendar year.

Senator Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, another member of the PHEAA board of directors, called the program a “down payment for frontline nurses whose dedication over the past year and more has not passed. unnoticed “.

He added, “Our goal is for this program to show frontline nurses that we appreciate them and the hard work they do every day.

* This story has been updated to include a quote from Governor Tom Wolf’s spokesperson.

Jan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.

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