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AFSCME is fighting on behalf of public service workers struggling with student loans

Photo credit: Getty.
By Pete Levine ·

Student debt plagues more than 40 million Americans, including public service workers who’ve invested in education to gain the skills to better serve their communities. It’s a crisis sorely in need of repair.

That’s why AFSCME is part of a broad effort to persuade the Biden administration to cancel debt for all public service workers who have made payments on their federal loans for a decade, as well as canceling up to $50,000 of debt per borrower for those with direct federal loans. AFSCME is also urging the Biden administration to extend a moratorium on federal student loan payments, which is set to expire on Sept. 30.

Another tactic in the battle to provide relief to borrowers is fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

When the loan forgiveness program started in 2007, its goal was simple: encourage workers to pursue careers in public service. The idea was that after 10 years of work in public service, applicants – attorneys, teachers, doctors, nurses, child care workers and many other professionals – would have the balance of their student loans forgiven, provided they’d made on-time payments of their loans up to that point.

However, only a paltry few were ultimately given that relief because the task of applying for loan forgiveness was onerous, confusing and misleading. The program, which was run by the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos, was also severely mismanaged.

Congress funded the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which was meant to help borrowers who were having trouble applying for the original program. The hope was the new program would decrease the original version’s staggering rejection rates, but that program failed as well.

AFSCME backs new legislation introduced this month by Reps. Jimmy Panetta of California, Henry Cuellar of Texas and Lucy McBath of Georgia to repair the loan forgiveness program.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Modernization Act will simplify and modernize the program that stranded many public service workers, AFSCME members among them, in a bureaucratic quagmire, unable to receive the relief they’d sought.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “Representative Panetta’s legislation represents a long overdue fix, which would provide peace of mind to so many AFSCME members and attract more people to public service.”

Saunders also provided context for how important loan forgiveness is for many of AFSCME’s public service workers and how deserving they are of a program that finally works.

“Public service workers are skilled professionals who have dedicated their lives to strengthening their communities. And during the pandemic, they have answered the call with greater courage and resolve than ever. Many could earn more if they chose different career paths, and many have taken on crushing student debt in order to get the education and credentials they need to be so effective at their jobs,” he said.

These public service workers deserve to have the promise made to them fulfilled.

AFSCME urges Congress to pass this important bill.

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