Social Worker Loan Forgiveness Legislation Reintroduced in Congress

The bipartisan legislation would repay up to $250,000 in student loans for behavioral health workers, like mental health and substance misuse social workers.
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  • A bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate would offer up to $250,000 in loan forgiveness for certain behavioral health providers, including some social workers.
  • The legislation would repay a sixth of a qualifying individual's eligible loans each year.
  • Lawmakers hope the bill would both cut back on a nationwide shortage of behavioral health workers and expand access to care.
  • Similar legislation didn't receive a vote in a previous session of Congress.

The United States could face a shortage of more than 250,000 mental health professionals by 2025 — and a bipartisan group of senators hopes to combat that shortfall with loan forgiveness.

U.S. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) reintroduced the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act last month, according to a press release from Smith. That legislation would repay up to $250,000 in student loans for eligible mental health workers in areas facing shortages, according to the release.

Smith said in the release that the legislation would expand access to mental health resources across the country.

"I've shared my own story with depression because I want anyone suffering from a mental health issue to know they are not alone. We can all help break the stigma around talking about this, but de-stigmatizing and de-mystifying mental illness is just the beginning. We have to make sure mental health resources are available to everyone," said Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee.

"We need to pass our bipartisan bill to help close the holes in the net we build to catch people when they fall and need help."

Murkowski noted that Alaska has a disproportionately high rate of mental health and substance use disorders.

"By providing loan repayment for those who aspire to help fill the gaps in rural and underserved areas, we can increase access to mental health services in Alaska, and ensure a healthier future for all Alaskans," Murkowski said in the release.

Hassan said the nationwide shortage of workers means that people dealing with mental health and substance use disorders have difficulty finding care, adding the legislation "addresses this challenge head on by incentivizing more providers to work in communities across our state."

The bill would repay up to one-sixth of a qualifying mental health professional's eligible student loans for each year of service, according to a summary of the legislation. A wide range of mental health professional groups have signed onto the legislation, including the American Psychological Association, the Wounded Warrior Project, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association.

Similar legislation was introduced in a previous session, but it didn't make it to the finish line in Congress, according to

Social work includes a wide range of fields, according to BestColleges, with social workers employed by local government agencies typically earning the most, with a median annual wage of $57,660 in May 2020.