On June 22, 1944, President Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act – better known as the GI invoice – into the law. Benefits of the legislation included study grants for WWII veterans and the cost of living for continuing education or training. In his declaration of signatureRoosevelt stated, “They have been forced to make greater economic and any other kind of sacrifices than the rest of us, and they have the right to take certain measures to solve their particular problems.”
In other words, veterans owed a special thank you to American taxpayers by risking their lives to protect the country. America faces yet another existential crisis in the form of the deadliest pandemic in a century. Once again, the country owes special thanks. Again, these debts can be paid off by supporting the cost of education.
Although all Americans are affected, frontline health workers are putting their health at risk almost every day. The doctors, ambulance workers, nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, and others who care for patients with COVID-19 directly, as well as the laboratory technicians and researchers who do coronavirus-related work, “are forced to make more” sacrifices, “like Roosevelt It is for this reason that we are calling on the government to cancel the student debt of health workers on the COVID front.
As is well known, COVID-19 not only triggered a public health disaster, it also triggered a devastating economic crisis. Those in health care weren’t immune. Alone in April nearly 1.5 million healthcare jobs we are lost. Even now, months after the pandemic began, many hospitals and doctor’s offices are in financial health remains uncertain.
This is particularly worrying for American health care workers who depend on stable employment to repay the massive debts they accumulated during their education and training. The average student debt for graduate nursing students stands between $ 40,000 and $ 54,999. Almost three quarters of American medical students graduate with an average academic debt of $ 200,000, and 85% of pharmacy students graduate with an average college debt of $ 170,000.
That debt burden weighs on American healthcare workers currently tasked with containing the tide of COVID-19. Have studies Student debt linked to burnout, psychological stress and a reduced quality of life. A major survey of medical students in 2014 found that student debt “appears to affect the way students approach important life decisions such as when to raise a family, when to buy a home, and which specialty they choose”. Another study found similar restrictions on new nursing graduates that directly impact their futures.
To be clear, frontline health workers are not soldiers, and the COVID-19 pandemic is not a war. However, at a time when many intensive care units and hospitals across the country are being overwhelmed, these individuals are making enormous sacrifices to care for their fellow Americans. They work grueling long-term shifts – some without adequate personal protective equipment – and are suffer from significant psychological stress. Although they are at high risk of exposure to the virus, they keep popping up every day, ready for work. They have put their fears aside in the service of communities and a country they love deeply.
Canceling the student debt of these workers would remove a source of constant uncertainty and stress. It would make a life changing difference in their quality of life. It would also help them do their job better. And it would be an expression of gratitude for the unique sacrifices America’s frontline medical workers have made since the pandemic began, just like GI law more than 70 years ago. It is the right and moral thing that the country is doing.
While that shouldn’t be the driving factor, eliminating student debt from frontline health workers is likely to benefit the American economy as well. In 2018, Bard College’s Levy Economics Institute projects that all student debt will be eliminated would increase the gross domestic product, stimulate employment growth, lower the unemployment rate and improve national budgets. The cost would be slightly higher government deficits and inflation. A smaller, more targeted program specifically aimed at frontline health workers would potentially deliver some of these economic benefits at a fraction of the cost.
The excessive costs of training in the health professions and the procedures for financing schooling have long required urgent reform. Healthcare workers shouldn’t graduate with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. Long-term, major fixes are years away at best and should be a priority. But for now, America should focus on immediately compensating our frontline health workers for their efforts.
On May 5, MP Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) presented the Student Loan Granting Act for Frontline Health Workers in the House of Representatives. This legislation would direct the Secretary of Education to grant the federal student loans to frontline health workers by “[assuming] the obligation to repay “or”[canceling] the outstanding balance of interest and repayment. “What matters is that canceled student debts” are not included in the gross income of the borrower “and therefore would not count as taxable income.
At a press conference on the day the bill was published Representative Maloney explained“Healthcare workers are concerned about their own health and the impact on their families. They shouldn’t have to worry about their financial security after the crisis. It’s a burden we can take off now.” She is right.
With House and Senate leaders considering resuming negotiations with the White House on yet another coronavirus alleviation bill, there has never been a better time to cancel the student debt of American frontline health workers. Our political leaders should not miss this opportunity to recognize their tremendous sacrifices, and the medical community should speak out in support of this much-needed relief.
Kunal Sindhu, MD, is a resident doctor in New York City. Nicholas Gavin, MD, MBA, MS, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Columbia University. Courtney Vose, DNP, MBA, RN, is Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at New York-Presbyterian / Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Alden Bush, MS, MPH, is a graduate student in nursing and a university senator at Columbia University School of Nursing. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of their institutions.