Thursday, September 19, 2019

Legislators to Vote on Bill that Would Excuse Volunteer Firefighter Student Loans; Retain and Recruit Responders

A bill was approved to be voted on in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives on Wednesday that could excuse student loan debt for volunteer firefighters.

On Wednesday, House Bill 1786 was unanimously approved by the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

House Bill 1786 would establish The First Responder Loan Forgiveness Program, which would forgive up to $16,000 in loans to indebted college graduates after they have served four years with an emergency medical services agency, a volunteer fire company or a volunteer rescue company.

The Bill's author, Representative Christopher Sainato (D-9th District/Lawrence County) said  “Retaining and recruiting volunteer emergency responders are among the commonwealth’s greatest challenges today,”

“The numbers are sobering: Last year, the results of a state report commissioned to study the problem found that the number of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania declined from about 300,000 in the 1970s to no more than 38,000 in 2018. Compounding the problem, agencies are struggling the most to recruit younger members, which means that the numbers will only continue to decline in the years ahead."

"The consequences are already being felt, as some departments have been forced to reduce services or shut down, while others have had to hire additional paid staff. It’s a problem that threatens to undermine public safety, and surely one that will impact taxpayers if we don’t come up with viable solutions now. My bill would address the problem with an effective recruitment tool that would provide a real-life incentive to young Pennsylvanians struggling with student loan debt.” said Sainato.

The House of Representatives could vote on this bill as early as next week.  If passed, it will also need to be approved by the Pennsylvania State Senate.

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