Washington Post: Bipartisan bill would cancel student loans for mental health professionals

WASHINGTON POST, LEIGH ANN CALDWELL AND THEODORIC MEYER

As Mental Health Awareness Month continues, a bipartisan duo of House members is unveiling another bill to address mental health and substance abuse.

The proposal by Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) would reauthorize and triple the size of a program that forgives student loan debts for substance use disorder treatment clinicians and community health workers.

“It is a program that is known to be incredibly important and I’ve heard from providers in my district … about how valuable this program is,” Spanberger said in an interview. “But there’s far more people who want to access it than we have funding for.”

The Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program had more than 3,000 applicants in 2021, but funding could only cover 255 recipients. It is currently funded at $25 million, and Spanberger and Rogers want to increase funding to $75 million.

The point is to incentivize workers into the field, which has a massive shortage of health-care professionals.

Rogers, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee who hails from a rural, predominantly White district whose poverty level is twice the national average, acknowledged that increasing funding levels is going to be difficult as House Republicans push to dramatically reduce spending.

“I’ll be working hard to make it work,” Rogers told us.

The list of programs Republicans hope to fully fund is growing even as the party is hoping to make major budget cuts. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) told us last week that he will “prioritize” funding for a new bill with Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) that directs the Center for Mental Health Services to come up with a strategy to address the effects of social media on young people.

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