Fitzpatrick bill seeks to help essential workers with student loan debt

Newly introduced bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) would establish a new commission to designate specific essential workers and to provide them with student loan debt relief during the pandemic.

“Our essential workers put their lives at risk every day to make sure the rest of us are safe and healthy,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “They deserve all of the help we can provide them. By providing the option to help pay their student loans or continue their education, we can give them one less thing to worry about.”

Rep. Fitzpatrick on May 5 signed on as the lead original cosponsor with 20 other Democratic cosponsors of the Opportunities for Heroes Act of 2020, H.R. 6699, which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH).

H.R. 6699 would establish a commission to determine essential employment during the COVID–19 crisis period and provide loan repayment and education credit to workers employed in such essential employment positions during the crisis, according to the text of the bill.

Specifically, the legislation would authorize the U.S. Labor Secretary to establish the Essential Employment Commission, which would be tasked with publishing a list of the types of employment that are essential during the COVID-19 crisis period, according to the bill’s text.

“In determining the types of employment that are essential … the commission shall consider whether the employment protected the health, safety or well-being of the American public; and if the employment involved considerable risk of exposure to COVID-19,” according to the bill’s language.

Such essential positions included in the bill would include food and pharmaceutical sales, transportation employment, childcare providers for essential workers, research and development and testing related to COVID-19, and postal and delivery workers, among many others.

According to Rep. Fitzpatrick’s office, H.R. 6699 also would provide $25,000 in either student loan debt relief or education benefits to essential workers and their family members.

The proposed bill is supported by the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), the American Pharmacists Association, the National Association of Grocers, the American Health Care Association, and the International Association of Fire Fighters, among others.