New bill opens student loan repayment funds

A CDA-sponsored bill aims to make it easier for dental school graduates to access funds available in the state's Dental Corps Loan Repayment Program and recently earned unanimous approval from the state Assembly.

The program, which was established in 2002 and funded with $3 million, still has more than $1.5 million available due to some unnecessary, restrictive provisions that have made it difficult for individuals to qualify for the program. Furthermore, the program hasn't had an applicant since 2012.

AB 2485 by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) will allow awardees to fulfill the required 30 hours per week at more than one location and provide fund disbursement upfront upon acceptance into the program and at the beginning of each year in three equal amounts. It will also remove unnecessary and burdensome requirements such as speaking a second language or having already worked three years in an underserved dental area, using them instead as criteria for consideration when selecting among qualified applicants. 

"CDA wants to address these barriers so the funds can be effectively disbursed and help increase the number of dentists treating underserved communities," said CDA President Ken Wallis, DDS.

The program was originally funded with $3 million dollars, authorized out of the State Dentistry Fund, to be disbursed over three years to participants chosen by the Dental Board of California. The Dental Board was also tasked with advertising the program to eligible individuals, seeking matching funds from nonprofit entities, and servicing the loan repayment disbursements in amounts of up to $105,000 per participant. The first cycle of the program began in January 2004 and nine participants were chosen out of 24 applicants. Between the processing of a second cycle of applicants in July 2006 and a fourth cycle in 2012, only 10 more applicants were chosen for participation. The program has not received any applicants since that time. The program currently has approximately $1.63 million available for disbursement.

CDA is working in collaboration with the Dental Board and Assemblymember Santiago to improve the program so the funds are available to those dental school graduates who make a difference by choosing to practice in underserved communities across California.

Many of these changes are modeled after the requirements of the CDA Foundation, which every year successfully awards one new dentist with its own Student Loan Repayment Grant to help repay his or her dental educational loan. The grant, which provides up to $105,000 over three years in exchange for a commitment to care for the underserved, has not only provided financial support for 16 dentists across the state, it has motivated them to give back to their communities.

After approval in the Assembly, AB 2485 is now under consideration in the state Senate.

For more information on the California Dental Corps Loan Repayment Program, visit dbc.ca.gov. For more information on the CDA Foundation's Student Loan Repayment Grant, visit cdafoundation.org.

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Every year, the CDA Foundation awards one new dentist with a Student Loan Repayment Grant to help repay his or her dental education loan. To date, the grant program has not only provided financial support for 16 dentists across the state, it has motivated them to give back to their communities, and Stephanie Calvillo, DDS, the 2013 Student Loan Repayment Grant recipient, is a good example of that.

The CDA Foundation offers financial support to dental professionals and community-based organizations statewide that provide dental care to underserved communities. Grants and scholarships are available throughout the year with various deadlines and submission periods.