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Senator pitches GI Bill-style program for healthcare workers fighting pandemic

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (Air Force/Released)

Front-line healthcare workers and first responders battling the COVID-19 outbreak could qualify for nearly $10,000 a year over four years for college, student debt or other purposes under legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

The Pandemic Responder Service Award Act would be a way to thank those “who have answered the call for their country in this terrible pandemic,” said Casey, D-Scranton, during a conference call on Tuesday.

Casey’s legislation comes after he called for a GI Bill for health-care workers in an op-ed on PennLive.com in mid-April. Saying that the pandemic is “a different kind of battlefield,” Casey lauded those workers on Tuesday for putting themselves and their families at risk to care for others.

Healthcare workers should be thanked for their service by more than applause, Casey said. “It should be tangible, it should be something they can literally take with them,” he said.

Casey said the legislation would apply to front-line health-care workers, EMS personnel, hospital workers, including janitorial, transport, laundry and food service workers; employees in physician offices and clinics conducting COVID-19 work, home health-care workers, nursing home and other residential care employees and behavioral health service providers.

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Eligible workers could receive up to 100 percent of the average cost of in-state tuition at a public university, which is nearly $10,000 this year, over four years, adjusted for inflation.

The amount of the awards would hinge on the time spent by workers in an at-risk situation. Those spending 180 days or more at risk would receive 100 percent; 151 to 180 days would, 87.5 percent; 121 to 150 days, 75 percent; 91 days to 120 days, 62.5 percent; 61 days to 90 days, 50 percent; 31 days to 60 days, 37.5 percent, seven days to 30 days, 25 percent; and less than seven days, 12.5 percent.

Casey said the money could be used to pursue associate, bachelor or master degrees, pay off existing student loan debt, or augment savings, such as for business start-ups, buying a home or boosting retirement accounts.

As much as $1,000 per year could be withdrawn for emergency purposes. Money also could be transferred to children’s savings accounts for direct dependents.

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© 2020 the Beaver County Times