Pa. bill offers student loan forgiveness to first responders

"We ask first responders to put their lives on the line for us every day. Giving something back while restoring the ranks of volunteers is a win-win proposition," Rep. Chris Sainato said


By J.D. Prose
Ellwood City Ledger

LAWRENCE COUNTY, Pa. — State Rep. Chris Sainato's bill offering student loan forgiveness to volunteer first responders passed the House last week and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

"My bill would provide a powerful motivation for young people and a well-deserved benefit for those who serve," Sainato, D-9, Union Township, Lawrence County, said in a statement after his House Bill 1786 was unanimously approved.

"We ask first responders to put their lives on the line for us every day," he said. "Giving something back while restoring the ranks of volunteers is a win-win proposition."

Sainato has pushed for several bills that offer incentives to attract and retain volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel. He often cites the findings of a 2018 state commission report that reported the number of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania had declined from about 300,000 in the 1970s to just 38,000 by last year.

"Fire and rescue companies are feeling the impact, closing their doors or being forced to hire paid staff," Sainato said. "This is a public safety issue and a taxpayer issue."

Sainato's bill would offer up to $16,000 in student loan forgiveness based on the length of the academic program after a volunteer has served four years with a fire or EMS department.

On Oct. 21, Sainato joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to tout legislation that aims to help attract volunteer first responders, such as the one that passed and his House Bill 1834, which would extend the Fire Company and EMS Grant program and allow funds to be used on recruitment efforts.

Two of those bills by other lawmakers, one allowing relief money to fund new programs, and another that would increase loan limits under the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program, were also approved by the House last week.

The remaining four bills, including House Bill 1834, are pending in the House.

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©2019 Ellwood City Ledger, Pa.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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