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Caring Force Rally speakers deliver powerful message

The nearly 600 members of The Caring Force who rallied Monday at the State House heard from four diverse speakers who shared a common message: The human service workforce needs lawmakers to take action on student loan repayment, accessible higher education and affordable health insurance.

The speakers --  Nathan Kugorgbor of HMEA, Megan Caron of Roxbury Youthworks Inc., Sarah Yukna of Bristol Elder Services and Leigh Mazur of Bay Cove Human Services – represented different regions of the Commonwealth and care for different populations, including the elderly, at-risk youth and those with developmental disabilities and behavioral health issues. But all four are struggling under the burden of college loans, and the small salary boosts they’ve received through Chapter 257 have been immediately swallowed up by the skyrocketing cost of health insurance.

Mazur, who is an assistant team leader with Bay Cove, told attendees that her student loan payment and health insurance for her and her husband would exceed $1,100 per month.
“We try to teach clients how to pay their bills on time and handle money responsibly,” said. “I fear the very thing I’m trying to help my clients avoid is what I’m going to end up doing.”

Yukna, who works in protective services investigating reports of elder abuse and neglect, added that she came out of college owing $50,000 in student loans while earning $13.94 per hour.
She called for support of the Providers’ Council’s student loan repayment bill (House Bill 124), which would provide up to $150 per month for not more than 48 months to help low-paid human service workers with student debt.

“The loan repayment bill would provide much needed relief,” she said, adding that “tuition remission for graduate studies would allow me to continue my education and better serve clients.”

The Council has also sought to expand its current Tuition Remission program at state colleges to include graduate-level courses.

Kugorgbor said House Bill 124 would go a long way toward helping direct care workers like him stay in the field and eliminate the uncertainty of whether he will be able to continue following his passion of working in human services.

Caron said she is passionate about her work, but she also wants to grow professionally.

“I love my job as a life coach, but my salary isn’t enough” to pay off $65,000 in student loans and pursue the master’s degree that would help her advance in the field, she said.

The Caring Force also honored three legislative champions during the rally. Sen. Jennifer Flanagan of Leominster, Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin and Rep. Gloria Fox of Boston were each presented with a Caring Bear Award for their tireless work on behalf of the human services sector in the Commonwealth. Read more here.