Tobacco Commission considering student loan forgiveness program to help rural areas

Program to be voted on Thursday

DANVILLE, Va. – Finding doctors and nurses willing to work and live in rural areas like Danville can be tough.

John Kent, the chief operating officer of Sovah Health's Danville campus, says nearby metropolitan areas like Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro provide a lot of competition.

"With physicians in particular, sometimes we can recruit them to come and work here but they want to live in another community."

That means Danville's economy loses out on a lot of  the money they're spending on things like food and taxes.

The Tobacco Commission's proposed new student loan forgiveness program is meant to change that.

"What we need is the right number of new, high-skilled individuals who can come and fill these jobs that we're having trouble filling. We have a high confidence that this is the best practice in this field," Tobacco Commission Executive Director Evan Feinman said.

People in certain non-health care professions can get $12,000 of their student loan paid off a year for up to four years.

For health care workers, the Tobacco Commission will work with the Virginia Department of Health, which already has a loan forgiveness program.

"(There will be) $3 million for our non-health professions...then our health professions will be $2 million on top of what the Virginia Department of Health is already doing," Feinman said when asked how much money has been budgeted for the first round of the program.

He added that the program is sustainable for the foreseeable future.

Anyone receiving money will have to live in Southwest or Southside Virginia for at least two years and be involved in the community.

"I think it's a huge benefit over many of the other things that we've tried," Kent said.

If the program is approved at the Tobacco Commission's meeting on Thursday, applications could start being accepted in July or August.

Applications will be available on the Tobacco Commission's website.

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