House unanimously passes Sainato first responder loan forgiveness bill

Would excuse some student debt as incentive for volunteer service

HARRISBURG, Oct. 23 – Indebted college graduates who serve with a volunteer fire or rescue company or emergency medical services agency would have up to $16,000 in student loans forgiven under a bill the House passed unanimously today, according to author state Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence.

As Democratic chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, Sainato said he introduced House Bill 1786 to provide an incentive for young Pennsylvanians to serve as volunteers at a time when they are desperately needed.

“The SR6 Commission’s report released last year drove home just how urgently Pennsylvania needs to replenish its diminishing ranks of volunteer first responders,” Sainato said. “The number has declined over the decades so that today, it is nearly one-tenth of what it was in 1970. Fire and rescue companies are feeling the impact – closing their doors or being forced to hire paid staff. This is a public safety issue and a taxpayer issue.

“My bill would provide a powerful motivation for young people and a well-deserved benefit for those who serve. 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. I’m heartened that my colleagues in the House are moving this legislation forward.”

Sainato said length-of-service requirements under the program would vary based on the length of the academic program on which the debt is based. Graduates would receive up to $4,000 annually for each year of debt – for a maximum of $16,000. The program would apply prospectively only and begin no earlier than July 1, 2020.

The bill heads to the state Senate for consideration.