Tester Introduces Bill to Strengthen Education Benefits for Volunteer First Responders
Legislation Will Allow Community Heroes to Access Critical Loan Forgiveness Program
(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation today to strengthen education benefits for volunteer first responders.
Tester’s bill will expand eligibility for the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to volunteer first responders, which will pay off the entirety of their student loan debt.
“Communities across Montana rely on volunteer first responders to keep their families and their property safe,” Tester said. “By ensuring that these selfless heroes have access to additional benefits, we can bolster volunteer fire and law enforcement departments by recruiting more folks to serve their communities.”
“This is a good bill for volunteer fire departments across Montana because it will increase recruitment and retention, especially when it is hard to find additional volunteers,” said Mike Doto, President of the Montana State Volunteer Fire Fighters Association. “The Montana State Volunteer Fire Fighters Association thanks Senator Tester for sponsoring a bill to boost rural fire departments.”
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program provides student loan forgiveness for the balance of principal and interest on loans that were issued after October 1, 2007. In order to qualify for the program, public service professionals must have previously made 120 full payments towards the loan while fulfilling a commitment to public service.
Over 70 percent of the fire fighters in the U.S. serve in a volunteer capacity. These volunteers spend large amounts of their own time and money training to respond to emergencies within their communities.
Volunteer first responders save local taxpayers more than $30 billion annually, and most volunteer first responders serve rural communities where full-time departments are not feasible.
Tester has sponsored additional legislation to recruit and retain more volunteer first responders in rural communities by expanding access to critical home loan programs. He also passed a bipartisan bill through the Senate to reauthorize two firefighting grant initiatives that help local fire departments train, equip and purchase safety gear.
Tester’s bill is available HERE.