Introduced by Representatives Pugh of S. Burlington, Ancel of Calais and Fisher of Lincoln
Subject: Human services; secretary; social workers; payment of debt; appropriation
Statement of purpose: This bill proposes to direct the secretary of human services to pay education debt for social workers for each of up to six years of full‑time work as a professional social worker in Vermont.
AN ACT RELATING TO PAYMENT OF EDUCATION DEBT FOR SOCIAL WORKERS
It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:
Sec. 1. FINDINGS
The general assembly finds that:
(1) Vermont has a shortage of qualified social work professionals especially across agency of human services departments and partner agencies.
(2) A qualified and stable workforce in public facilities and social services is essential to ensure the provision of quality services to persons in need of services, including persons (all ages) with mental illness, developmental disabilities, or other disabilities, persons in need of substance abuse treatment, persons under the care and supervision of the department of children and families and the department of corrections among others.
(3) AHS has outlined special initiatives that warrant specific focus, including building bright futures, addressing co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, trauma, offenders, victims and restorative justice, housing and transportation, roles and productivity, special populations: autism, deaf, and hard of hearing. Social workers are uniquely qualified to consider multiple levels of practice implications from the micro- to the macro-level and to alleviate barriers that clients face and to consider unintended consequences of reorganization.
(4) Public facilities and nonprofit social services agencies are currently facing a personnel crisis which is suspected only to worsen.
(5) The entry-level and ongoing salaries offered by these public facilities are not always competitive with those offered in the private for‑profit sector, which limits the ability of these facilities to attract and retain qualified direct care professionals.
(6) Educational loan payment programs can address the economic hardship of social work professionals performing critical work in low-paying jobs, who in many instances are forced, because of their high loan debt and low incomes to reject or abandon employment in the public and nonprofit sector, which is in great need of their skills and knowledge.
(7) The departure of these skilled professionals from the public and nonprofit sector is a loss to the consumers that they serve and to society at large.
(8) Compromised social services yield clients who continue to experience insurmountable hardships in their life experiences.
(9) The cost of pursuing a social work degree ranges from approximately $21,000.00 to over $80,000.00 with few opportunities to obtain loan forgiveness under federal law.
(10) The establishment of an educational loan payment program for social work professionals is essential to address the need for the continued provision of high-quality services by these skilled and knowledgeable professionals.
Sec. 2. 3 V.S.A. § 3027 is added to read:
§ 3027. EDUCATION DEBT PAYMENT; SOCIAL WORKERS
(a) Upon application, the secretary shall make payments directly to a lender or creditor to pay for an educational loan of a professional social worker who has educational debt acquired in pursuit of a degree in social work.
(b) Payments made under this section may be up to $6,000.00 per year for one year of full-time service as a professional social worker in Vermont and shall not be prorated for less than one year of service. Full-time service means at least 37.5 hours per week. The secretary may make payments under this section for up to six years of service.
(c) To be eligible for debt payment under this section, a person shall:
(1) have received an undergraduate or graduate degree in social work from a postsecondary institution in a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education;
(2) be a resident of Vermont; and
(3) meet other criteria adopted by the secretary by rule following consultation with social work professionals, the Vermont chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the Area Health Education Centers Program.
(d) The secretary may require that an applicant for debt payment submit documentation of loan status and conditions, proof of satisfactory service as a professional social worker, proof of satisfactory completion of a degree in social work, and other documentation necessary to implement this section. The secretary may adopt rules as necessary to implement this section.
(e) The educational loan repayment program shall be administered in a manner that complies with the requirements of Section 108(f) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Sec. 3. APPROPRIATION
The amount of $100,000.00 is appropriated from the general fund to the secretary of human services for the educational loan repayment for professional social workers pursuant to 3 V.S.A. § 3027.
The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street