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Advocates highlight recent modifications to a program available to public sector workers, from urban planners to firefighters, that allows borrowers to receive a credit for past repayment periods.
The U.S. Supreme Court dealt advocates of canceling student debt a blow when the justices knocked down President Biden’s program as unconstitutional last June.
Local advocates have reworked their focus. Gov. Maura Healey this fall offered loan forgiveness opportunities for health care professionals working for the state Department of Mental Health or nurses affiliated with MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program.
Nicole LeBlanc, a 39-year-old paralegal in the city of Springfield’s law department, traveled to Boston City Hall on Monday to promote another front in the push for student loan forgiveness.
LeBlanc shared her story at an event with Sen Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Attorney General Andrea Campbell, and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu promoting a recent modification to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The federal program, which is aimed at government workers, from urban planners to firefighters, and some nonprofit employees, provides loan forgiveness to eligible workers after 10 years on the job and a decade of making loan payments.
The new tweak to the program by the Biden administration allows borrowers to receive a credit for past repayment periods that would not typically count towards forgiveness, such as late or partial payments.
The change opened up eligibility to more people, but in order to take advantage of the benefit, some borrowers must consolidate their privately owned loans into one federal loan program by December 31.
LeBlanc had applied in 2019 to the federal loan forgiveness program, having reached the required 10 years of government service but not knowing she needed to consolidate the loans in order to qualify. Her application was rejected, but LeBlanc’s mother Stephanie urged her to try again. After receiving advice from the state attorney general’s office, she consolidated her loans, her application was approved. Last year she had $70,000 in loans forgiven.
In August, thanks to the debt relief, she purchased a home in Springfield. “I never thought homeownership was within reach,” LeBlanc said, tearing up as her mother watched from the front row of Monday's event.
In Massachusetts, close to a million borrowers carry $33 billion in student loan debt, according to Campbell. Forty percent are 35 years old and older.
LeBlanc said before she reached out to Campbell’s office, she struggled with a lack of publicly available information and guidance. Her loan servicer often gave her confusing advice.
Pressley, who spoke after LeBlanc relayed her frustration with her first unsuccessful go-around on loan forgiveness, pointed to the saying “if you build it, they will come.” The Boston congresswoman, who has been a major proponent of student loan forgiveness, said, “That’s not true if no one knows about it.”
In conjunction with the press briefing, City Hall hosted a free clinic for public employees to help them identify the types of loans they have and get them started on the loan forgiveness application. Campbell said her office is also advertising on the MBTA.
Campbell’s office is attempting to raise awareness by sending a mailing this month to 40,000 eligible Bay State borrowers who must consolidate their loans by December 31 in order to take advantage of the limited-time loan forgiveness. “That is a critical deadline,” Campbell said.