New bill would give essential workers $ 25,000 for tuition and student loans
As Congress contemplates the next phase of coronavirus relief, some lawmakers want to help pay off frontline worker student loans or higher education costs.
“The grocery store clerks didn’t take this relatively low-paid job thinking they were saving the world,” Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.
A new bill introduced this week would give essential workers $ 25,000 in student debt relief – or for tuition or the costs of a workforce development or continuing education program. Kuster and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) presented the Opportunity for Heroes Act Tuesday. Bill has several other Democratic co-sponsors, but Fitzpatrick is the only Republican on board so far.
“Our essential workers put their lives at risk every day to make sure the rest of us are safe and healthy,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “They deserve all the help we can give them. By giving them the option of helping them pay off their student loans or continue their education, we can give them one less worry. “
If the bill becomes law, the Secretary of Labor would establish a new commission to determine which workers are deemed essential and eligible for the $ 25,000. Some of the positions that the bill specifically mentions include healthcare workers, first responders, pharmacy workers, grocery store workers and postal workers.
“It’s hard to imagine literally every type of essential worker,” Kuster said. “We want it to be inclusive. We want to make sure that people are recognized even if the role they played is more obscure.
Essential workers who worked at least 480 hours in a 120-day period during the COVID-19 crisis would be eligible. Workers who could not reach 480 hours due to a case of COVID-19 would still be eligible.
The bill would allow workers to transfer the money to a family member. For example, if an essential worker did not have a student loan or did not want to go to college, they could use the money to pay for their child’s education.
“It’s not just workers who are at risk, but these essential frontline workers can bring the virus home – the contagion home – and also put their families at risk,” Kuster said. “We recognize the contribution of families.
Kuster said she was working to include the bill, or at least some form of higher education benefits, in the next stimulus plan. The CARES Act has given some student loan relief, including a six-month suspension of some student loan payments – but experts say it’s not enough.
Right now, a few proposals are circulating around DC. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) this week introduced a bill to cancel student loan debt for healthcare workers. Women of Congress Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Ilhan Omar have a map write off $ 30,000 in debt per borrower. While passing any debt cancellation legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate can be an uphill battle, Kuster believes his Republican co-sponsor is a promising sign.
“I think there will be a debate on the parameters of the program,” Kuster said. “That would be part of the economic stimulus package … to make sure people go back to school or back to work, that they get the economy going.”
A contributor to the House committee on work and education told Yahoo Finance he is considering a series of additional relief proposals for student borrowers.
Kuster told Yahoo Finance it supports student loan relief with or without a pandemic, but the outbreak presented an opportunity to step up support.
“People recognize that student debt is one of the things that keeps the next generation from realizing their full economic potential and fully contributing to our society. As we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn, we will be looking for opportunities to develop our economy, ”Kuster said. “There is broad bipartisan support for increasing skills, increasing capacity and removing barriers to success. “
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, DC Follow her on Twitter at @ JessicaASmith8.