Nurses in Pennsylvania will begin receiving notifications next week about whether they are eligible for a share of the $55 million the state is making available to reduce or erase their student loan debt.

The money for the Pa. Student Loan Relief for Nurses Program comes from the state’s share of Federal American Rescue Plan funds. This one-time offer will relieve certain state-registered nurses who cared for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic at a Pennsylvania healthcare facility from up to $7,500 in student loan debt.

“Pennsylvania’s healthcare workforce has been overworked and understaffed for years, creating recruitment and retention issues for medical facilities and quality-of-care issues for patients,” said Senator Maria Collett, of the D-Montgomery County, in an email. Collett, a nurse, pitched the idea of ​​nursing loan relief to Governor Tom Wolf last year.

“The program was designed to provide a much-needed boost to nurses who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and help Pennsylvania retain and rebuild its nursing workforce,” it said. she declared.

Nearly 24,000 nurses applied for this loan forgiveness program as the application window closed, according to a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which operates the program. This number far exceeded the fund’s ability to provide maximum debt relief to all who requested it.

Accordingly, the agency has designed a selection method to ensure an equitable distribution of funds by geographic region based on the percentage of eligible applicants from each region. It will then randomly select winners from each region.

Once the selections are made, PHEAA spokesman Keith New said the agency will notify the winners and begin the process of verifying their employment. The plan is for the first payments to go directly to the student loan department of nurses selected in August, he said.

This loan forgiveness program was first announced last fall when Governor Tom Wolf made $5 million in federal COVID-19 recovery assistance available. The General Assembly, seeing the high level of interest from nurses soon after the application window opened, passed legislation in January to increase federal funds for the program by $15 million.

The 2022-23 budget agreement passed earlier this month injected an additional $35 million of federal COVID-19 recovery assistance into this program. Collett said she had fought to increase the pot of money in hopes of allowing “more deserving nurses to benefit from it”.

The program, which pays up to $2,500 per year for up to three years, is limited to registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified registered nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse midwives who have started to work by December 31, 2021, at a Pennsylvania facility that provides nursing care directly to patients.

Given the programme’s popularity, Collett said she hopes it “could serve as a model for other areas facing staffing shortages across the Commonwealth”.

Jan Murphy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy