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Student loan relief for essential workers?

May 12, 2020

BY: Citizens Count

Rep. Annie Kuster is sponsoring legislation to provide $25,000 in student debt relief or tuition assistance for essential workers. 

The “Opportunities for Heroes Act” would benefit employees from grocery stores to fire stations. 

Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Dan Feltes has made a similar proposal to offer frontline workers two years of free tuition at New Hampshire community colleges and universities. 

The Opportunities for Heroes Act 

Rep. Kuster’s bill, the Opportunities for Heroes Act, would provide $25,000 toward either student loans or tuition.  The bill creates a commission to determine which employees are eligible for the benefit, but the bill also lists some employees that are guaranteed eligibility.  Workers guaranteed benefits include: 

  • Grocery store employees 

  • Pharmacy employees 

  • Health care workers 

  • Firefighters 

  • Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics 

  • Manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE) 

  • Food producers 

  • Postal workers 

  • Transportation workers, from taxi drivers to truck stop workers 

  • Social workers and advocates for survivors of domestic violence 

  • Mortuary service workers 

  • Law enforcement 

There are other proposals for student debt relief at the state and federal level.  For example, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York is sponsoring a bill to forgive all student loan debt for medical workers. 

In New Hampshire, state senator and gubernatorial candidate Dan Feltes supports two years of free higher education for frontline workers.  

A way to thank workers 

Supporters of these ideas argue that our country needs to compensate essential workers for putting their health at risk during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Truckers, grocery store cashiers, sanitation professionals, nurses, and more support our survival as a society—yet many of these workers are earning less than they might receive with current unemployment benefits. 

Student debt relief isn’t just a way to say thank you.  It also stimulates the economy by putting more cash in workers’ pockets each month.  This might be spent on housing, cars, or other consumer goods. 

Student loan relief could have a particularly big impact in New Hampshire because Granite Staters have the fourth highest average student loan debt in the U.S. ($34,415). 

Is student loan relief a partisan idea? 

Some opponents argue that student loan debt relief is a priority of the Democratic Party that doesn’t directly relate to the coronavirus emergency.  If we want to compensate essential workers for their help, we can give them special stipends, similar to the current New Hampshire program providing $300 a week to firefighters, law enforcement, EMTs, and workers at long-term care facilities. 

Others argue that while we are all thankful for essential workers, they do not need economic help as much as people forced to close their businesses, leave work, and stay home.  Several other government relief programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, are close to running dry.   

The federal CARES Act already suspended interest, payments, and collections on student loans. 

Meanwhile some colleges and universities are already cutting costs for students.  Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) recently announced a year of free tuition for incoming freshmen. 

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