Prior to 2020, I, like most people I’d assume, had a pretty good appreciation for frontline workers—those dedicated human beings who handle the most serious and dire of situations. They are the angels who scoop up our kids in an emergency and ensure us they’ve got it and our babies will be okay. And who appear at our doorstep when we call 911 or who assist our loved ones in the hospital with tenderness and care.
But as we near the end of 2020, that appreciation has increased ten-fold. This horrific year that has put us all through the wringer has tested our frontline workers the most. The first responders, the healthcare workers, the essential workers who are our first and last line of defense against COVID-19—they are the most exhausted. The most depleted. The ones from whom we’ve asked more than what is humanly possible. And yet, they’ve miraculously delivered.
They are the ones who comfort lonely, scared, dying patients and hold a phone to their ear so their families can say goodbye.
They are the ones choosing to save lives of others and, in turn, not see their own families so they don’t infect their spouses and children.
They are the ones working 24-hour shifts, treating patient after patient, while fighting the terror that they, too, could be lying in a COVID-19 ward soon.
They are the ones giving everything they have to stop the spread of this pandemic, knowing full well that so many of us on the outside of those hospital walls are not doing our part. Yet they keep going.
And they are often the ones drowning in student loan debt.
Anyone in the medical field knows that you don’t get that doctor or nurse title without a shit-ton of school. And school costs money. But their passion for helping others fuels their desire to do it anyway, even if they have to take out loans. Sometimes up to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth.
Loans that can take a lifetime to pay off. Yes, even for doctors.
But maybe not. Maybe, now that we’ll have a president who A) believes that this pandemic is real and B) is willing to spend time, money, and energy showing his appreciation for all who have worked tirelessly to fight it rather than simply silence or fire anyone not committed to inflating his fragile ego… maybe now we can do something to help and say thank you to our frontline healthcare workers in a tangible way.
Because I’m pretty sure if you ask them, many (maybe even most) would say they’d love some loan forgiveness.
Imagine working a 24-hour shift in a petri dish of COVID, holding the hands of dying patients. Cleaning up after they closed their eyes one final time. Triaging new patients to take those beds. And repeat, over and over.
Imagine someone grabbing your hand and asking if they were going to die as they gasped for breath. Imagine having to intubate a patient who still, hours from the end, denies this virus is even real. Imagine running out of PPE and having to reuse germ-infested supplies. Imagine telling your kids you can’t come inside the house and seeing them from the other side of a glass door.
Now imagine you do all that but still can’t pay your bills because your student loan payments are so high. Because you put yourself through undergrad, then grad school, then medical school, all just so you could help people get better. So you could save lives.
Well, a tweet from @the1stgentleman went viral for suggesting that maybe there’s another way. Maybe frontline healthcare workers, especially after this year, shouldn’t be saddled with life-long debt. Maybe as an act of kindness and appreciation, our government could forgive those loans because holy shit haven’t these people done enough?
This Twitter user goes on to make this point as well:
To be clear, military personnel should have their loans forgiven as a thank you for serving. No one is disputing that. But healthcare workers who have also made the ultimate sacrifices this year should receive that same appreciation.
And responses like this echo the sentiment, proving Americans are behind this idea:
Because this is the reality for America’s healthcare workers this year:
Which is unacceptable. How can we claim to be a strong, leading, modern nation and treat our frontline employees like this?
Well, many of our legislators say we can’t. And we shouldn’t. In fact, back in May, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, along with several other members of Congress introduced H.R. 6720: Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act. If passed, this bill would “assume the obligation to repay the outstanding balance of interest and principal due” on Federal student loans and eligible private student loans borrowed by frontline healthcare workers.
Imagine being able to say to doctors like Dr. Joseph Varon, whose image went viral as he comforted a COVID-19 patient in the ICU on his 252nd consecutive day of work, that any outstanding loans he might have are now paid in full.
There is no greater gift (other than adequate PPE and maybe a vaccine of course) we could give our medical professionals.
So it’s up to you, President-Elect Biden, once you’re inaugurated, to send a clear message to frontline healthcare workers. And that is a message of gratitude that also lets them know just how incredibly valuable they are—whether we’re living through a pandemic or not.
You know how much the national student loan debt as a whole hurts our economy. And how much it’s grown under the Trump administration. CNBC reports that staggering number to be more than 16%, from $1.44 trillion in 2017 to roughly $1.68 trillion today. Also, equally alarming is this statistic: “An estimated 46 million Americans have student loans, making it the second biggest form of household debt in the country.”
You clearly realize the severity of this critical economic issue, which is why you already introduced a proposal to relieve workers in “public service” of student loan debt. And kudos to you, President-Elect Biden, for this initiative that not only helps many Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, but also encourages high school and college kids to go into vital public service roles, knowing they’ll be properly compensated.
But our frontline healthcare workers who have put everything on the line in order to save America need you to do more once you take office. As you re-create a sense of decency and unity, and as you try to rebuild our country out of the ashes of a pandemic made worse by a lying narcissist (and oh what a pile of ashes it is), you should also offer some reprieve to those who have truly been down in the COVID trenches these past 10 months.
Because again, if military servicemen and women have their loans forgiven, the “soldiers” in our hospitals this year should as well. They’ve been fighting an unrelenting war—not only against a contagious, deadly virus, but against their fellow citizens who deny that it is real and refuse to do their part for the greater good.
We can’t force stubborn old Richard and his wife Beatrice up in North Dakota to wear a mask, which would greatly help the healthcare industry in their community. But we can ask our government to forgive the loans of those who will be treating crotchety old Dick once he falls ill.
They more than deserve it.
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