Senate Bill Introduced to Give Volunteer Emergency Responders Student Debt Relief

On June 25, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced S. 3124, the Help Encourage a Lifetime of Public Service (HELPS) Act, which would waive interest payments on federal student loans for public servants, including volunteer emergency responders. The bill would also make volunteer emergency responders eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives federally-financed student loan debt of individuals who have been public servants and made all of their student loan repayments for 10 consecutive years.

“I’d like to thank Senator Heitkamp for introducing this important legislation, which will help volunteer emergency responders with student loan debt and give fire, EMS, and rescue agencies a powerful new recruitment and retention tool,” said NVFC Chair Kevin D. Quinn. “Approximately one million Americans serve their communities as volunteer emergency services personnel, and many of them hold student loan debt. I am very pleased that the HELPS Act would give those volunteer firefighters, EMS providers, and rescue personnel access to the same student debt forgiveness that government and nonprofit employees receive.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the first quarter of 2018 there were 42.8 million Americans holding $1.4 trillion worth of federal student loan debt. A press release from Senator Heitkamp’s office announcing the introduction of the HELPS Act noted that often, “…qualified graduates choose to pass up opportunities to serve in rural public schools, fire departments, farms, or community clinics due to high amounts of student loan debt.” Reducing the financial burden of student loan debt for public servants will make it easier for people to be able to afford to live, work, and volunteer in rural communities.