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Council, members testify in support of loan repayment bill

The Providers’ Council and several of its members testified before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities on Monday, July 31 in support of legislation that would create a loan repayment program for low-paid human services workers.

Council Vice President of Public Policy and Development Bill Yelenak noted the proposed legislation – House 116 (filed by Rep. Jeffrey Roy) and Senate 42 (filed by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan) would help staff stay in jobs they love and allow a continuity of care for the state’s most vulnerable residents. The sector is experiencing a workforce crisis, which is only expected to get worse over the next few years, he added. Yelenak cited an example from the 2017 report Who Will Care? The Workforce Crisis in Human Services, which projects that while the state is expected to see a decreased in prime working age population by nearly 40,000 people by 2024, the human services sector alone will need an additional 25,000 jobs.

Yelenak was joined by Tim Regan, a Community Integration and Benefits Coordinator from the Vinfen Corporation, and Kristen Tingley, a Mobile Clinician from Advocates, who testified that their current student loan debt and low salaries make it difficult to provide for themselves and their families. Regan is on track to graduate with his undergraduate degree in 2018, and currently has $25,000 worth of student loan debt. “With the passing of this bill, it would aid myself and those around me in our journey to aid the clients we serve by allowing us to take care of ourselves,” he told the Joint Committee.

Tingley, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Framingham State University, has a current student loan debt of $35,000. Her monthly student loan repayment is just more than $400, making it difficult to provide for her family, she said.

“I have recently become engaged and am starting to create a family and life together with my signficiant other,” she said. “Unfortunately, due to the fact that I am drowning in student loans, we are struggling to survive in our society. I work two jobs, and nights, weekends and holidays.”

President and CEO of Road to Responsibility Chris White also testified that his organization has a chronic vacancy rate of approximately 20 percent and the organization loses up to 30 percent of new hires in their first year. White said a student loan repayment program would help his organization recruit and retain staff and improve outcomes for the clients whom they serve. The loan repayment program, White said, would “help workforce retention and provide encouragement to existing staff people who would like to earn a college degree to further their professional development.”

Rep. Roy also testified in support of his bill, calling it an effort to help the industry and attract individuals to work in the field. The bill would help workers with student loan payments so they can remain in human services, he added.

You can read the Council’s complete testimony here. For more information on the hearing or the loan repayment bill, please email Bill Yelenak.