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Maine police chiefs, public safety officers call for more tools to address staffing shortages

Maine police chiefs, municipal officers and county commissioners are among those calling for more tools to help them address what they say is a growing staffing crisis among public safety and health workers.

They're backing a bill from Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor. His proposal would create a $5 million student loan forgiveness program for municipal and county law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical dispatchers and public health workers. It would also dedicate another $5 million to provide no-interest home loans to those workers.

"We have a large retirement population, or about-to-retire population," Baldacci said during testimony Friday for his legislation. "Focusing on the student loans and the home mortgages helps younger families and younger people to attract them to those professions."

Physicians, nurses and others provide direct care to patients already have access to certain student loan forgiveness programs. But others who offer behind-the-scenes emergency support lack access to those programs and earn significantly less compared to their counterparts in direct medical care.

A blue-ribbon panel convened by the Legislature last year said Maine's emergency medical service workforce was on the brink of a workforce crisis.