By Marley Parish
Pennsylvania-licensed nurses could soon see some debt relief through a recently launched, one-time student loan forgiveness program, which has already seen overwhelming demand. And the deadline to apply for help is soon approaching.
Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative Democrats announced the COVID-19 Nursing Workforce Initiative last fall as an effort to reward front-line health care workers and address industry recruitment and retention challenges. The $20 million relief program, which received a bipartisan boost in funding last month, offers up to $7,500 student loan debt forgiveness for Pennsylvania nurses.
“Our nurses and direct care workers have done a phenomenal job – [a] frankly, awe-inspiring job – of responding to an ongoing pandemic with limited resources, which makes them the heroes that they are,” state Sen. Maria Collett, a Democrat from Montgomery County and a former nurse, said last month. “But words only go so far when it comes to showing our health care workers that they are needed and valued.”
More than 6,000 program applicants submitted a request for relief, Collet, who has continued legislative efforts to make the program law, said last month.
“With each awardee eligible to receive up to $7,500, that means well over half the eligible applicants could be left in the cold,” she said.
Here’s what to know ahead of the application deadline:
Who can apply?
Eligible nurses must be licensed through the Pennsylvania Department of State and live in Pennsylvania.
Applicants should have worked at least a combined 1,250 hours in a qualifying nursing facility, with employment beginning before Dec. 31, 2021, across the qualifying 12-month calendar year.
How much relief is available for each applicant?
Qualified applicants could receive up to $2,500 in relief for each year of work, beginning in 2020, for no more than three years – allowing for a maximum benefit of $7,500.
Where to apply?
Applications are available online through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
The best way to return an application is by fax at 717-720-3786. They must be submitted as one document or by mail to: PHEAA PA Student Loan Relief for Nurses Program, P.O. Box 8157, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8157.
When is the application deadline?
Applications must be received by March 1.
How are candidates selected?
PHEAA will review all applications submitted by the deadline for eligibility.
The total number of eligible applicants will be calculated for the entire state and region based on the county of residence.
Marley Parish is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.