Van Hollen, Colleagues Call on Biden Administration to Extend PSLF Waiver Deadline
U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), alongside U.S. Representatives John Sarbanes (D-Md.-03), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.-02), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.-05), and Kathy Manning (D-N.C.-06), in urging U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to extend the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) waiver deadline until at least July 1, 2023, when the Department’s proposed rules to improve and expand federal student debt relief programs, including PSLF, are currently on track to take effect. Extending the waiver would help ensure more public servants are able to benefit from the historic waiver that has already resulted in over $9 billion in forgiveness for more than 146,000 public servants and more than 1 million borrowers receiving, on average, one additional year of credit toward PSLF. The extension would also help the agency minimize confusion among borrowers while it conducts a one-time account adjustment later this year and finalizes its proposed PSLF rule.
“The PSLF waiver announced by the Department last October was designed to ‘overhaul’ the PSLF program and ‘make it live up to its promise’ by allowing ‘all payments by student borrowers to count toward PSLF, regardless of loan program or payment plan,’” wrote the lawmakers to Secretary Cardona. “To date, the waiver has been overwhelmingly successful in reducing barriers for borrowers to receive PSLF relief—accounting for almost all (89%) of the borrowers who have received forgiveness through the PSLF program through June 30, 2022.”
The lawmakers pointed out that data makes it clear that only a fraction of the public servants who are eligible for PSLF have utilized the current waiver. As of the end of June, the Department only has information from 1.3 million PSLF borrowers with eligible employment and positive loan balances, compared to the 9 million public service workers that the Student Borrower Protection Center identified earlier this year who could potentially be eligible for PSLF.
“For many borrowers, the Department’s one-time review to fix forbearance and deferment failures, scheduled for later this year—potentially after October 31, 2022—may be the first time that they learn that certain periods of deferment and forbearance could count toward both income-driven repayment (IDR) and PSLF programs,” added the lawmakers. “…For many public servants, losing access to the PSLF waiver before they are able to benefit from the IDR payment adjustment could prevent them from being able to pursue forgiveness under PSLF.”
The lawmakers highlighted how extending the PSLF waiver will also allow more military service members and federal employees to make progress towards achieving loan forgiveness through the PSLF program. Reporting shows that military service members face troubling administrative hurdles in certifying their employment for the PSLF program. By extending the PSLF waiver, more military service members and federal employees can benefit – maximizing the promise of the PSLF waiver.
“[W]e also ask that the Department increase its outreach to public servants and borrowers to ensure that they are aware of the waiver and understand eligibility requirements, and correct any misinformation about the waiver being communicated by student loan servicers,” concluded the lawmakers.
Joining Senators Van Hollen, Menendez, Murray, Kaine, and Gillibrand in the Senate in signing the letter are Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Joining Representatives Sarbanes, Courtney, Hayes, and Manning in the House in signing the letter are Reps. Alma Adams (D-N.C.-32), Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.-31), Colin Allred (D-Texas-32), Cynthia Axne (D-Iowa-03), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Karen Bass (D-Calif.-37), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.-01), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.-16), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.-02), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.-24), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.-29), André Carson (D-Ind.-07), Sean Casten (D-Ill.-06), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.-14), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Fla.-20), Judy Chu (D-Calif.-27), David Cicilline (D-R.I.-01), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.-05), Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.-09), James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.-06), Jason Crow (D-Colo.-06), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.-07), Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.-03), Val Demings (D-Fla.-10), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.-11), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas-35), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.-13), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.-03), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.-7), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.-04), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas-29), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.-34), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.-3), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.-26), Jim Himes (D-Conn.-04), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas-18), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.-53), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.-07), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.-08), Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.-05), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.-06), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.-08), John B. Larson (D-Conn.-01), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.-14), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.-13), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.-03), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.-08), Lucy McBath (D-Ga.-06), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.-04), James McGovern (D-Mass.-02), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.-06), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.-10), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.-02), Marie Newman (D-Ill.-03), Donald Norcross (D-N.J.-01), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.-At-Large), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.-06), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.-20), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.-09), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.-02), Katie Porter (D-Calif.-45), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.-07), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.-05), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.-08), Deborah K. Ross (D-N.C.-02), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.-40), Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-Calif.-36), C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.-02), Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.-01), Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.-38), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.-09), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.-07), Haley Stevens (D-Mich.-11), Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.-03), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.-13), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.-15), David Trone (D-Md.-06), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.-51), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.-12), Susan Wild (D-Pa.-07), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.-05), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.-24), and John A. Yarmuth (D-Ky.-03).
“The Biden administration’s temporary waiver for Public Service Loan Forgiveness has been a game-changer for so many people who have dedicated their lives to public service and have been struggling under the crushing weight of student loans. But it is just that—temporary—and it leaves borrowers in limbo as we wait for new regulations to take effect next year,” said Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers. “Let’s be clear, everyone who received the debt relief was promised it. This waiver was a critical step toward healing a broken student loan system that has pauperized a generation. We need to take it one step further and extend it. The people who are benefiting from this moment of relief are the same people who carried us through a pandemic—we need to honor their commitment and extend the deadline for the PSLF waiver.”
“No matter what we look like, where we live, or what’s in our bank accounts, all of us should be able to pursue our dreams at an affordable college or university. But for too long, the cost of college has forced many students and families to forego their education goals or be trapped in a lifetime of debt. When educators are unable to repay their student debt, it means fewer educators in the profession, and more disruptions for their students,” said Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association. “We are overwhelmingly grateful for the waiver that has allowed thousands of educators to receive the promise of PSLF, but there are simply too many educators who have been left out to end the waiver now. We implore the Biden Administration to keep the promise of PSLF and extend the waiver deadline.”
“Public service workers make incredible sacrifices every day to strengthen their communities – and never more so than during the last two and a half years of this pandemic. The least we can do is ease their overwhelming student debt burden, much of which they have incurred while getting the skills and education they need to be better at their essential jobs,” said President Lee Saunders, President of AFSCME. “So many AFSCME members have benefitted from the Biden administration’s temporary waiver that expanded eligibility for loan forgiveness. But we are only scratching the surface of the need. It is time to extend the deadline and give more public service workers the time to learn about the program, apply for loan forgiveness and get the relief they need.”
“The Administration's overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is just hitting its stride--delivering debt relief to educators and healthcare workers who are still reeling from the pandemic and its aftermath,” said Mike Pierce, Executive Director of the Student Borrower Protection Center. “We strongly urge President Biden to listen to Senators Menendez, Murray, Kaine, and Gillibrand, Representatives Sarbanes, Courtney, Hayes, Manning, and more than 100 of their colleagues: keep your promise to cancel student debt for every public service worker who is eligible, no matter how long it takes.”
This effort is supported by 74 outside organizations, including: The School Superintendents Association (AASA), AccessLex Institute, Accountable.us, Alaska Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), American Alliance of Museums, American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), American Association of University Women (AAUW), American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), American Council on Education (ACE), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Psychological Association (APA), Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance , Association of Young Americans (AYA), Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW), Center for American Progress (CAP), Center for Economic Integrity, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW), Civil Service Bar Association, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Communication Workers of America Union (CWA), Community Service Society of New York, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), Equal Justice Works (EJW), Fosterus, Hispanic Federation, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA), International Association of Firefighters, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), Jewish Federations of North America, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), Legal Aid at Work, Loan Assistance Repayment Program of Minnesota, Maine Center for Economic Policy, Maryland Center for Collegiate Financial Wellness, National Action Network Washington Bureau, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Association of Social Workers, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work, National Council of Nonprofits, National Education Association (NEA), National Employment Law Project (NELP), National Military Family Association, National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), National Women's Law Center (NWLC), Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, New America, New Jersey Citizen Action, New Leaders, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU)—IFPTE Local 70, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, ParentsTogether, People's Parity Party, Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), Public Law Center, Social Current, Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC), Student Debt Crisis Center, The Arc of the United States, The Debt Collective, The Education Trust, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), UnidosUS, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Voices for National Service, and Zero Debt Massachusetts.
Find a copy of the letter HERE and below.
Dear Secretary Cardona:
Thank you for your continued efforts to improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. As you know, the limited PSLF waiver announced last year has already improved the lives of more than 164,000public servants who have had their student loans forgiven and 1 million who have received an average of one additional year of PSLF credit. Yet, we write today, as we believe that additional action is needed to ensure public servants—who have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery—can access the PSLF waiver. Currently, only an estimated 15 percent of the 9 million public service workers with student debt have filed paperwork to track their qualifying payments under PSLF. The Department of Education (Department) will not begin its one-time review of accounts with extended forbearances and incorrectly recorded deferments, which could help borrowers make more progress toward PSLF relief, until later this year—potentially after October 31, 2022. In addition, the Department recently unveiled its sweeping proposed regulations for improving student loan programs, including PSLF—which are currently on track to take effect on July 1, 2023. Thus, we request the Department extend the PSLF waiver deadline until at least July 1, 2023, in order to align with new changes under forthcoming rules and minimize confusion among borrowers.
The PSLF waiver announced by the Department last October was designed to “overhaul” the PSLF program and “make it live up to its promise” by allowing “all payments by student borrowers to count toward PSLF, regardless of loan program or payment plan.” To date, the waiver has been overwhelmingly successful in reducing barriers for borrowers to receive PSLF relief—accounting for almost all (89%) of the borrowers who have received forgiveness through the PSLF program through June 30, 2022. Moreover, the limited waiver is also a lifeline for Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) borrowers who, for the first time, have seen their payments acknowledged in the PSLF program. Last summer the Department called the treatment of public servants with FFEL loans “a matter of equity,”6 but a single year of flexibility has not been enough to overcome years of “inaccurate information about eligibility for PSLF or Direct Consolidation Loans, resulting in deceptive acts or practices.”
Data indicates that only a fraction of the public servants who are eligible for PSLF have utilized the waiver. As of the end of June, the Department only has information from 1.3 million “cumulative PSLF borrowers with eligible employment and positive loan balance[s],” compared to the 9 million public service workers that the Student Borrower Protection Center identified earlier this year that could potentially be eligible for PSLF. As the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond warns, this could leave millions of public servants at risk of missing out on the benefits of the PSLF waiver and its associated loan forgiveness.
As more than 20 state attorneys general have pointed out, public service workers—particularly those in healthcare and education—continue to face challenges such as burnout and personal sacrifice to keep our nation safe during the pandemic and recovery. For many borrowers, the Department’s one-time review to fix forbearance and deferment failures, scheduled for later this year—potentially after October 31, 2022—may be the first time that they learn that certain periods of deferment and forbearance could count toward both income-driven repayment (IDR) and PSLF programs. These borrowers may qualify for immediate forgiveness—especially given the PSLF waiver—or, at minimum, advance their progress towards PSLF relief. For many public servants, losing access to the PSLF waiver before they are able to benefit from the IDR payment adjustment could prevent them from being able to pursue forgiveness under PSLF.
Importantly, extending the PSLF waiver will also allow more military service members and federal employees to make progress towards PSLF. According to a 2021 report by the Government Accountability Office, 200,000 active-duty military service members have federal student loans—about half of whom have balances over $13,000. Reporting shows that military service members face troubling administrative hurdles in certifying their employment for the purposes of PSLF. The Department is currently working to ensure that all federal agencies or departments “automatically [provide] credit toward PSLF for military service members and federal employees.” These data matches are critical to ensuring that the agency can identify which borrowers are eligible for PSLF and provide them automatic relief. By extending the PSLF waiver, more military service members and federal employees can benefit—maximizing the promise of the PSLF waiver.
Since the deadline of October 31, 2022 to qualify for PSLF under the waiver program is rapidly approaching, we ask that the Department extend this deadline in order to ensure that all public servants with federal student loans are able to benefit from this historic waiver. Given the issues stated above, we also ask that the Department increase its outreach to public servants and borrowers to ensure that they are aware of the waiver and understand eligibility requirements, and correct any misinformation about the waiver being communicated by student loan servicers.
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