State Sen. Maria Collett (D., Montgomery/Bucks) says there’s overwhelming demand for a program offering Pennsylvania nurses up to $7,500 in student loan debt relief, and she’s fighting to expand and make the program law.

Collett and Gov. Tom Wolf have been heavily promoting the new Student Loan Relief for Nurses (SLRN) program for nurses working in Pennsylvania.

Qualified nurses can receive relief of up to $2,500 for each year of work during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting in 2020, with a maximum benefit of $7,500 over three years.

Nurses can apply at www.PHEAA.org/SLRN. All applications must be submitted by March 1.

The program is part of the Nursing Workforce Initiative, which uses $6.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to keep nurses in the profession during the pandemic. Of that total, $5 million will go toward nurses’ student loan relief.

Complete applications can be submitted via fax at (717) 720-3786 and by mail to: PHEAA PA Student Loan Relief for Nurses Program, P.O. BOX 8157, Harrisburg, Pa. 17105-8157.

The quickest method to return an application is by fax, according to the PHEAA website, which is the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.

Due to overwhelming demand, PHEAA has received more than 8,000 applications since the program launched last spring, Collett said.

“There’s more demand than money, and we can get the funds to do more,” Collett said. She’s introduced Senate Bill 974 in the statehouse to expand the program so that it would renew annually.

“My hope is that this becomes law,” she said.

Winning applicants will be chosen at random and will come from across the commonwealth.

In 2017, there were about 180,000 nurses in Pennsylvania, Collett said. That’s decreased in May 2020 to 146,000 nurses.

“We need to figure out how to show nurses in Pennsylvania that we value them more than just putting a sign in the yard,” Collett said.

COVID-19 Nursing Workforce Initiative also offers other incentives, including apprenticeships and industry partnerships, funded with $1 million, and residency and mentorship programs, funded with $500,000.

“Pennsylvania nurses have been instrumental to the commonwealth’s COVID-19 response, from bedside care and educating our communities, to supporting the commonwealth’s nation-leading vaccine distribution efforts,” said Wolf.

Eligible applicants will need to be licensed through the Department of State, be a Pennsylvania resident, have worked in person at a school entity or in a qualifying nursing facility, and began employment prior to Dec. 31, 2021.

Applications are being reviewed in the order they were received, and an email confirmation of receipt will be sent to applicants that include a valid, legible email address. Applications sent through postal mail may take longer, the agency said.