Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program Gets Federal Funding

AFSCME members pushed Congress hard to fund the Substance Use Disorder Treatment Workforce Loan Repayment Program, which is aimed at helping lessen the burden of crushing student loans for full-time workers who treat or support patients with substance-use disorders.

In late December, $12 million in new funding was signed into law, a big victory for AFSCME’s United We Heal campaign, which led a grassroots effort in which members testified on Capitol Hill and lobbied lawmakers to expand support for the legislation.

“To know these dollars are in place certainly has an impact on how I can further my education in 2020,” said Jerod Geter, a correctional counselor at Bridgeport Correctional Center in Connecticut and a member of Local 1565 (AFSCME Council 4). “The issues we are dealing with are constantly changing. To stay on top of the latest best practices for tackling the opioid crisis, suicide prevention and others is much more doable if it doesn’t break the family budget.”

AFSCME members across the country who work in behavioral health save lives. They do high-stakes work that requires expertise and dedication. That deep expertise often requires advanced degrees and high student loan debt.

“Knowing that AFSCME is taking on legislation like this and is in the room for members like me makes a real difference in my career today and for years to come,” said Geter.

The funding represents a big victory, but it is half of the amount AFSCME members were advocating for. A new effort is underway to ensure that policymakers adopt clear guidelines spelling out how workers can apply for the loans and navigate the repayment program. Also, since behavioral health workers doing similar work can have varied job titles, members are working to make sure the program isn’t limited to a few narrowly defined classifications.

“Congress better know that in 2020 we are pushing to not just renew this funding, but to get the full $25 million,” said Geter.