COVID-19 Stimulus Law Includes Needed Relief for PA Education

Following the rapid mobilization of PA education advocates across the country and an unprecedented response during which more than 4,000 messages were sent to Congress, the bill — designed to help millions of individuals and thousands of businesses weather the pandemic — includes critical sources of relief for both PA programs and students, as well as long-standing policy priorities for PAEA. Key provisions of note include:

Aid to Institutions of Higher Education

Securing additional resources for PA programs and students facing unanticipated housing and educational costs as a result of COVID-19 has been a top priority for PAEA’s Government Relations team. To address this burden, the CARES Act includes $14.25 billion in aid for institutions of higher education to defray costs and provide grants to students for expenses such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care. The bill also provides flexibility for institutions to repurpose other forms of federal funding to provide supplemental emergency aid.

Personal Protective Equipment

Ensuring the safety of both practicing clinicians and students continuing clinical rotations has been an additional priority for PAEA. The CARES Act includes $75 billion in new resources for federal agencies and state and local governments to invest in key public health activities, including ensuring an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for frontline providers and students.

Direct Payments

In addition to aid administered through institutions, direct payments of $1,200 for single individuals and $2,400 for joint filers plus $500 per child will be provided for those with incomes of less than $75,000 for an individual, $112,500 for a head of household, and $150,000 for joint filers. For higher incomes, the payments gradually decrease before ending at $99,000 for individuals and $198,000 for couples. This provision should provide additional funds for PA students and others to help them through the next few weeks.

Title VII Reauthorization

Since 2014, a number of the Title VII health workforce development programs — which support PA programs with resources to pay for clinical rotations in rural and underserved areas, provide scholarships for disadvantaged students, and improve student diversity — have been unauthorized, putting continued funding at greater risk. The CARES Act reauthorizes all expired Title VII programs through fiscal year 2025 at the funding levels approved for fiscal year 2020. The reauthorization of one Title VII program, Primary Care Training and Enhancement grants, has been a long-standing priority in H.R. 1686, the Physician Assistant Education Public Health Initiatives Act, introduced in early 2019 by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA).

National Health Service Corps Extension

Originally set to expire in late May in the absence of congressional action to renew mandatory funding, the new law includes an extension of the National Health Service Corps scholarship and loan repayment programs for students and recent graduates through November 2020. As of late 2019, PA students and graduates comprised approximately 10 percent of both the student pipeline and the practicing NHSC workforce that provides care to patients in underserved communities.

Student Loan Relief

In addition to aid directed to students through their institutions, the CARES Act also provides significant relief for individuals currently repaying student loans. Through September 30, federal student loan payments will be suspended; interest will not accrue on outstanding loan debt during this time; and each month of suspended loan payments will count toward the number of required payments for loan forgiveness programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Home Health

Beyond educational aid, the CARES Act also eliminates long-standing barriers for practicing PAs. A key priority for AAPA, the bill allows PAs, nurse practitioners, and clinical nurse specialists to order and manage home health services for Medicare patients, thereby improving access to these services.

The Government Relations team would like to thank the PA education advocacy community for its vigorous response to the Association’s call to action. As Congress develops additional proposals in response to the rapidly evolving pandemic, PAEA will continue advocating for additional priorities of all PA programs, faculty, and students.