Student Loan Repayment Options in Massachusetts
In an effort to help members navigate the student loan repayment options in Massachusetts, we created a FAQ to answer common questions.
I need help paying off my loans. What can I do?
Currently, licensed social workers in Massachusetts have two loan repayment options: the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Massachusetts Loan Repayment Program for Health Professionals (MLRP).
- The NHSC, a federally funded and administered program, offers primary care clinicians, including medical, dental, and mental and behavioral health providers the opportunity to have their student loans repaid, while earning a competitive salary, in exchange for providing health care in urban, rural, or frontier communities with limited access to care. The Primary Care Office (PCO) is the NHSC liaison for Massachusetts. For information on the NHSC loan repayment program go to www.nhsc.hrsa.gov.
- MLRP is a similar program that is funded through the a combination of federal and state monies and provides educational loan repayment as an incentive for primary care clinicians, including licensed clinical social workers, to practice in communities where significant shortages of health care providers and barriers to care have been identified. The Primary Care Office at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) administers the MLRP. Social workers (master’s or doctoral degree in social work) are eligible for up to $20,000 per year ($40,000 total over two years). For more detailed information on MLRP please visit the MDPH website.
NASW-MA does not oversee The Massachusetts State Loan Repayment Program. Please visit the Massachusetts State Loan Repayment Program website for more specific information on loan forgiveness opportunities.
They sound like the same program. What are the differences between the NHSC and MLRP?
The NHSC and MLRP aim to enhance access to primary care in underserved areas. While the programs are very similar, one difference is their selection criteria. Both programs require that applicants are employed by agencies in “Health Professional Shortage Areas” (HPSA). HPSAs are areas determined by the federal government as having shortages of primary medical care, dental or mental health providers and may be geographic (a county or service area), demographic (low income population) or institutional (comprehensive health center, federally qualified health center or other public facility). HPSAs are assigned a score (up to 25 points) indicating the degree of need. Health care provider agencies that are either within a HPSA or are a facility-designated HPSA may be eligible to have health professional employees participate in either the NHSC or the MLRP.
The importance of the agency’s HPSA score in a clinician’s application is one difference between NHSC and MLRP. NHSC prioritizes loan repayment and scholar awards in accordance with need. Once a clinician applicant is determined eligible for the NHSC program, the HPSA score is used to allocate awards. Clinicians who are or will be practicing in a high-scoring HPSA are prioritized for funding. MLRP considers the HPSA score, but other factors in an applicant’s application are given more weight, such as identified community needs.
Julia Dyck, Director of the PCO, explains that “Because MLRP is a state administered program we have more flexibility in deciding eligibility criteria. The MLRP can consider factors that are specific to identified community needs. For example, someone may not qualify for the NHSC because their agency’s HPSA score was not high enough, but he or she would qualify for MLRP because they are bilingual and that fits an identified community need.”
Who is eligible for the National Health Service Corps?
- U.S. citizen or U.S. national
- Practice in one of the following disciplines:
• Primary Care Physician (MD or DO)
• Dentist (DDS or DMD)
• Primary Care Certified Nurse Practitioner (NP)
• Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)
• Primary Care Physician Assistant (PA)
• Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) (general, pediatric, and geriatric)
• Health Service Psychologist (HSP)
• Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
• Psychiatric Nurse Specialist (PNS)
• Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)
• Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Licensed to practice in the state in which you will serve as a Corps member.
- Unpaid government or commercial loans for school tuition, reasonable educational expenses and reasonable living expenses, segregated from all other debts (that is, not consolidated with non-educational loans).
- Currently work in or are applying to work in a facility that is:
• An NHSC-approved facility
• Located in a Health Professional Shortage Area and applying to become an NHSC-approved site.
I have my LCSW. Am I eligible?
Both programs require social workers to practice independently without supervision; therefore, applicants must have the Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) level of licensure
The Primary Care Office at the Department of Public Health notes that “a current, full, permanent, unencumbered, unrestricted health professional license, to practice, at the level of licensure that allows them to practice independently and unsupervised as a Clinical Social Worker, from the State” is required.
How do I know if my employer is an approved NHSC facility?
You can check to see if your employer is approved at the NHSC website, http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/. Once on the website, click the “Sites” section and scroll down to “HPSA Site Finder”. If your employer is not listed as an approved work site, you can find out more information on how your agency can apply to become an approved site on this page as well. Providers applying for the program must be willing to make a contractual agreement with DPH and their employer to work full time (40 hours/week) for two years at the approved HPSA.
Can I apply to both NHSC and MLRP?
You can only participate in one program at a time. It is not advisable to apply for and be accepted in both programs. Attempting to apply to both simultaneously could make you ineligible for both. If you are interested in either program and have questions about the criteria or eligibility you’re advised to contact Nicole Watson at the Primary Care Office at MDPH at Nicole.Watson(at)state.ma.us or 617-624-6051 to discuss your questions.
How do I apply?
Applications can be found on the NHSC website, www.nhsc.hrsa.gov.
Applications for the MLRP are accepted ongoingly and are reviewed quarterly. Follow the instructions below to find the link on the state website:
- Go to www.mass.gov/osd
- On the right hand side of the page and click under ONLINE SERVICES, click on Find Contracts and Bids.
- Scroll down the center of the page and click on "Search for solicitations"
- Enter the document number (904215) in the document number field under the search criteria section.
- Click on the Search button.
- Click on the blue sentence about "there are 1 solicitation...." at the top of the page.
- Click on the View icon.
- Select the Specifications tab to view a copy of program documents.
- Select the Forms and Terms tab for a copy of the forms and application.
What loan repayment opportunities are there for faculty members?
The Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers Health professions faculty from disadvantaged backgrounds can receive up to a maximum of $40,000 towards repayment of their student loans in exchange for educating tomorrow's clinicians. To find more about the Faculty Loan Repayment Program, visit the website.
Has NASW-MA ever filed legislation to create a loan repayment program for social workers?
Student loan forgiveness is a high priority of the chapter. In January of 2013, the chapter filed House Bill 1077, a bill that would create a loan repayment pilot program specifically for social workers. To find out more about this bill and how to get involved, check out the 2013-2014 Legislative Agenda.
If you have additional questions about NHSC or MLRP, please contact Nicole Watson at Nicole.Watson(at)state.ma.us or 617-624-6051 to discuss your questions.
For information on NASW-MA’s advocacy for social work loan repayment legislation, contact Rebekah Gewirtz, Director of Government Relations and Political Action.