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Pennsylvania House of Representatives
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House Co-Sponsorship Memoranda

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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: February 5, 2019 04:25 PM
From: Representative Tarah Toohil
To: All House members
Subject: Student Loan Forgiveness for Child Welfare Workers
I am writing to ask you to join me in cosponsoring this important legislation to support child welfare workers in the Commonwealth and provide them with student loan forgiveness awards to offset the costs associated with earning a degree. This legislation will help attract, recruit and retain child welfare workers and help to lower overall costs of the child welfare system.

According to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in his 2017 “State of the Child” report, child welfare workers throughout the Commonwealth are being overworked and underpaid and work in dangerous conditions. The industry is plagued by high turnover rates. DePasquale studied 13 counties -- Allegheny, Bucks, Cambria, Centre, Crawford, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Fayette, Luzerne, Monroe, and York -- and found startling, sad, and unfortunate results.

The report also states that “County Children and Youth Services caseworkers are not adequately trained, are burdened by overwhelming caseloads and paperwork, and earn “a remarkably low salary given the educational requirements, daily work complexity and potentially dangerous components of the job. Those factors cause high caseworker turnover, and further impact the ability of caseworkers to adequately protect children.” High caseworker turnover leads to further instability of a system that currently operates with inadequate resources.

In these 13 counties, the average starting salary for a caseworker barely reached $30,000. Some caseworkers have been forced to enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. Many of those who fit into this category are recent college graduates with loans to repay. Retaining caseworkers in this field has become increasingly difficult.

The Opioid Crisis has been disastrous for PA’s Child Welfare system. Parental drug use is now the number one reason that children are being removed from the care of their parents. We need to create new ways to attract and retain quality workers to help care for the most vulnerable victims of the opioid epidemic.

My legislation will provide payment of a portion of student loans for eligible Pennsylvania child welfare workers, for the purpose of encouraging workers to seek employment in county child welfare agencies. It will set forth eligibility criteria, including attainment of a degree from an accredited university and a commitment to a period of continuous employment in the Commonwealth. It will also implement an outreach program, to attract workers to the field and provide them with the necessary support to succeed everyday.

These workers are a vital component of child welfare services in Pennsylvania. Without an adequate number of workers in child welfare agencies, children are not able to get the necessary support both inside and outside the home, including support in school and protection from abuse at home. Additionally, families are not able to get the necessary help to protect children, including mental health services and substance abuse assistance.

Please join me in my efforts to boost and support child welfare workers and the county agencies that provide Pennsylvania children and families with essential support systems.

Introduced as HB1980