U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand cosponsored legislation to strengthen the public health workforce and bolster the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Gillibrand is joining Senate colleagues to push for the Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act, which would reauthorize and improve a program created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide education loan repayment assistance to people who work in a state, local, or Tribal public health department.
“New York’s public health workforce has been on the front lines of our state’s fight against the coronavirus, despite tight budgets that make it harder to retain and recruit public health professionals,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Our number of public health professionals in state, local, and tribal health departments has been dwindling for years. To combat the coronavirus we must invest in building a strong public health infrastructure for testing and tracing, starting with our workforce. This legislation will reinforce and fund the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment program and take a critical step to invest in the workers who keep our communities healthy and economies thriving.”
Right now, America is facing an alarming public health workforce shortage. Local and state health departments have lost nearly a quarter (23 percent) of their workforce since 2008. Public health departments are also facing a looming retirement crisis, with almost a quarter of health department staff currently eligible for retirement and 55 percent of local public health professionals already over age 45. Experts also estimate that nearly half of the public health workforce is considering leaving their organization in the next five years. The loan repayment incentive provided by the Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act is crucial to retaining staff in public health departments during the current pandemic because a strong public workforce is needed to support critical activities like testing and contact tracing.
Specifically, the Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act:
- Reauthorizes the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program to provide education loan repayment assistance to eligible individuals who work in a state, local, or Tribal public health department. Under the program, an individual could receive up to $35,000 in repayment assistance for each year of service;
- Authorizes $200 million for the next five fiscal years for the program, with the expectation that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would first establish the program in the initial year;
- Shortens the obligated service time period from at least three years to two consecutive years of service;
- Expands eligibility requirements to include individuals with degrees in computer science, information science, information systems, information technology, or statistics; and
- Ensures that at least 50 percent of the program awards are provided to new hires, and that program contracts are equitably distributed between geographic areas and local, state and Tribal health departments.
A summary of the legislation can be found here.