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The Biden administration is working to make the program easier to access, but permanent reforms won’t be implemented until next summer.
A group of 118 Democratic lawmakers urged the Biden administration this week to extend a series of temporary waivers aimed at making the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program easier to access until permanent reforms can be implemented next year.
The popular, yet frustrating, program, which offers college graduates the chance to have their student loans forgiven, provided they work for government or a qualifying nonprofit organization and make 10 years worth of loan payments.
Last October, the Education Department issued several waivers and other temporary changes to the program to make it easier for borrowers to qualify, including giving participants a chance to consolidate their loans into the correct Direct Loan program, providing waivers for payments that were calculated incorrectly or were slightly late, as well as offering to review previously denied applications. And in July, the department proposed new regulations that would make many of those temporary fixes permanent.
In a letter Tuesday, the group of lawmakers from both chambers of Congress, led by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to extend the temporary waivers from the Oct. 31 deadline until the permanent regulations can be implemented next July.
“The limited [Public Service Loan Forgiveness] waiver announced last year has already improved the lives of more than 164,000 public servants who have had their student loans forgiven and 1 million who have received an average of one additional year of PSLF credit,” the lawmakers wrote. “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.”
The lawmakers noted that only an estimated 15% of the 9 million public servants with student debt have filed paperwork to track payments under the program, and one of the Education Department’s efforts to correct wrongful denials—a review of applications involving extended forbearances and deferrals—has yet to begin, despite the pending October deadline.
“Public service workers—particularly those in health care and education—continue to face challenges such as burnout and personal sacrifice to keep our nation safe during the pandemic and recovery,” they wrote. “For many borrowers, the department’s one-time review to fix forbearance and deferment failures, scheduled for later this year—potentially affter 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 and PSLF programs. These borrowers may qualify for immediate forgiveness—especially given the PSLF waiver—or, at minimum, advance their progress towards PSLF relief.”
According to the Education Department, as of June, more than $9 billion in student loan debt has been forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Eighty-nine percent of the 164,000 borrowers who have had loans forgiveness under the program were did so due to the temporary waivers.