Social workers provide essential services to people with varied behavioral health and social care needs in all stages of life. They help clients who face a disability, a life-threatening disease, or a social problem, including inadequate housing or unemployment. Unfortunately, these needs have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and associated employment collapse. But while the demand for social workers is great—and is expected to grow significantly over the next decade—educational institutions are simply not on pace to meet it. Indeed, social workers tend to have high student debt, but relatively low pay, making participation in the profession financially difficult. This debt burden is disproportionately borne by women and people of color.

With the assistance of Democracy Forward, NASW submitted this comment in response to the Department of Education’s RFI regarding the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The comment both articulates the above problem as well and proposes possible solutions to it. The comment demonstrates that social workers are essential, but that meaningful student debt relief is required to support social workers and to keep the profession financially accessible. It also shows that the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program has not helped alleviate the debt burden experienced by social workers.

The comment puts forward proposals to provide urgently needed student loan debt relief for social workers. These include eliminating all student debt owed by those who have served for a decade or more in public service, expanding access to PSLF for current social workers, and ensuring that indebted social workers obtain immediate relief.

Read the entire comment here.