News Draft opioid bill includes student loan repay program

A bill that reported out of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery – H.4033 An act relative to combatting addiction, accessing treatment, reducing prescriptions and enhancing prevention – on May 3 includes language to establish a student loan repayment program for human services workers earning less than $45,000, as well as a number of provisions to address the opioid crisis in the Commonwealth.

“The Providers’ Council was pleased that the Committee understands the importance of establishing this student loan repayment program for human services employees and included this in the very important opioid bill,” said Council President and CEO Michael Weekes. “Human services workers are our community’s other first responders saving lives and helping thousands on their path to recovery. Many of these are low-paid positions that require significant education and training, and this program will help ensure we can keep these highly qualified people in our sector.”

Section 37 of the bill, which was originally filed by Gov. Charlie Baker, would create “a student loan repayment program for human services workers, subject to appropriation.”

Using language that mirrors the Providers’ Council’s legislation, An act establishing a loan repayment program for direct care human service workers, an individual would have to be employed as a human service worker at a minimum of 35 hours per week, have an individual income of no more than $45,000 per year and have been employed full-time in the field for 12 consecutive months to be eligible for the program. The program would reimburse qualified applicants up to $150 per month for no more than 48 months. Reimbursements could not exceed $1,800 annually and apply only to qualified education loans, including interest.

Representative Jeffrey N. Roy (D-Franklin), a tireless champion for the human services sector, filed House Bill 116 and spoke in support of it at the Council’s recent Caring Force rally at the State House in April. He also filed a loan repayment amendment to the House budget proposal last month.

“Workers in this field are relied upon by many who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy and those of differing abilities – and we need a strong workforce to deliver these invaluable services,” said Roy. “Therefore, it is important that we provide competitive salaries and a livable wage for workers in this field. This provision greatly aids in these efforts.”

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