Public health workers advocate for student loan repayment program

Workforce turnover at the Granville Vance North Carolina Public Health Department is typically between 2% and 5% in a typical year. But the coronavirus pandemic has made the past two years anything but normal – the annual turnover rate stands at 12%, said Lisa Macon Harrison, director of the department.

Testifying before a congressional committee on Tuesday, Macon Harrison, who is also the president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, approved legislation that would establish a student loan repayment program for health professionals. public health. The aim of the program is to facilitate the recruitment of workers for often stressful and low-paying jobs.

“The challenges we face are the low wages and salary ranges that are not frequently updated at the state level,” Macon Harrison said during the hearing before the Chamber Energy and Commerce Committee. “These loan repayment opportunities will help us in recruitment as they are better targeted on local public health in particular.”

The Public Health Worker Loan Repayment Act, which enjoys bipartisan support from committee members, would repay up to $ 35,000 in student loans per year to eligible public health professionals. To be eligible, individuals would need to be in their final year of study and pursuing a degree in public health or health or have graduated within the past 10 years. These people must work for a local, state, or tribal public health agency and sign a service pledge for at least three years in public health.

Programs like this are essential in helping recruit new workers for public health agencies where many employees, exhausted by the stress of the past two years, are expected to step down as the pandemic abates, Macon Harrison said .

“As many of my colleagues have said, they are committed to staying the course during the crisis but will leave as soon as the threat is over,” said Macon Harrison.

Their reasons for leaving vary, she said.

“For some, it’s the intense polarization and threats that keep them away,” she said. “Others are drawn to better paying opportunities and private sector hospitals while still others leave for mental health reasons.”

Six years of funding

The House bill would provide $ 100 million in funding for loan repayments in fiscal 2021 and $ 75 million per year for five years thereafter. NACCHO estimates that $ 200 million in loan repayment funding would support about 6,000 public health jobs, or an average of two employees per local, state and tribal health service.

Members of Congress lamented the worker shortages that public health agencies and hospitals in their districts face.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican, said one of the hospital systems in his Florida district had more than 1,000 RN positions. Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California, said she expects the program to be extremely popular.

“I think if that fund were in place now there would be a race for money because the needs are so great,” she said.

Recruiting the municipal workforce became particularly difficult during the pandemic as all kinds of government agencies faced staff shortages including public safety, waste management and schools.

To meet the challenge, the Biden administration has taken steps this year to support public service recruitment efforts.

The US Department of Education this month announced plans to overhaul a student loan waiver program for public sector workers. This program was plagued by problems that prevented eligible workers from obtaining approval for loan forgiveness applications. Over 98% of people who requested loan forgiveness under the program were turned down, according to federal data, including thousands of teachers.

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