Pritzker signs bill to help social workers amid shortage

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed Senate Bill 661, a measure to help school social workers with earning and paying off their degrees, but it could come with a cost to taxpayers.

The law requires the Illinois Student Assistant Commission to award up to 250 scholarships for social workers. The law also requires the ISAC to fund up to $6,500 in loan repayment for loans related to social work.

Illinois faces a shortage of social workers, said state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe. She said that this measure is important to help fix that shortage and help better the state for the future.

“This law will help grow our pipeline of school social workers,” LaPointe said. “This will make our entire state better at supporting our young people.”

State Rep. Dan Brady has been against the signing of SB661. He said it is playing favorites during a national shortage.

“This particular scholarship program prioritizes some social workers over others,” Brady said.

The funding of these scholarships has also been an issue for other lawmakers. Brady said that if funds were available they would have to make a decision on where to take money from.

“Where is the money for this coming from?” Brady said “If the money is going to come out of the higher education budget then where are we taking it from?”

LaPointe addressed the funding questions and said that the money would come from the use of federal funds.

“When and if funds become available, perhaps forthcoming federal dollars,” LaPointe said. “This bill will help create a framework so funds can flow and we can help rebuild our school social work pipeline.”

Even with federal funding, Illinoisans could see their tax dollars going toward this program.

The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

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