The Health Resources and Services Administration run a program to encourage those with educational degrees in relevant fields relating to social work to work within underserved communities. The program is state based and is not run by every state, but in essence it works by individual states providing grants to repay student loan debt. State funds will be most usually matched by funds provided by HRSA. The program is also known as the National Health Service Corp. State Loan Repayment Program.
Eligibility and requirements differ greatly between individual states as do the amounts of student loan repayment. A state which runs the program may cease the program as Oklahoma did when funding was no longer available, resulting in the program now being declared defunct. A list of participating states follows but other states may now be participating in the program or plan too, so students should always request information from their relevant state for up to date changes.
Currently participating states are: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York State, Ohio, South Dakota and Utah. Awards do vary greatly as do conditions and length of service requirements, and qualifying categories of areas which offer the program within a professional capacity.
As an example of the State Loan Repayment Program for Social Workers the State of New York’s program has the following requirements. Applicants must be qualified social workers that have already completed one year of service in a critical field and student loan debt will be repaid up to a level of $26,500 in annual disbursements of $6,500. The program is open to those who are prepared to work in underserved areas of critical need in health, mental health, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, child welfare, and communities with multilingual needs. Thus the student who wishes to benefit from the program needs to plan in advance and work for one year in a relevant field before applying.
Most of the state programs consider qualifying student loans to be federal ones which have been used to complete undergraduate and graduate study towards the qualifying degree, and parent PLUS loans are excluded as are most private student loans. Some states have strict penalty charges for those who sign up to the program and then fail to complete it. Most often the repayments are made directly to the loan provider to ensure that funds are used to pay off the student loan debt.
For further details of individual state requirements the student should get information from their own State Loan Repayment Program for Social Workers and be aware that some states only have a low number of places available. It would help with applications if the student could show that volunteer service within a critical sector has been completed prior to application.