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Almost $200,000 in student loan debt forgiven for DC 37 member thanks to PSLF waiver

By Pete Levine ·
Almost $200,000 in student loan debt forgiven for DC 37 member thanks to PSLF waiver
Laura Morand, president of AFSCME Local 2627 (District Council 37)

Laura Morand owed $305,000 in student loans and didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I figured I’d be paying through the nose till the day I died,” said Morand, an AFSCME member. Short of winning the lottery or an inheritance – neither of which she expected – Morand’s student loans were going to hobble her for the rest of her life.

An IT professional who now works for the New York City Fire Department, Morand wanted a better life for her three kids, to get them out of “the projects of South Bronx,” as she described where she was living at the time, and off public assistance. Education was the way to do that.

In 1992, she enrolled in an associate degree program at Pace University in accounting and information systems but wound up earning her bachelor’s degree in under four years. It wasn’t easy. Money was always tight and between the coursework and her kids, there was never enough time.

After college, many of Morand’s classmates went to work in the private sector. The pay for IT professionals was lucrative – as much as $200,000-$300,000 a year or more – but Morand sought a career in public service, drawn by the connection to her community, as well as the stability, benefits and pension. Her classmates were puzzled by her decision, but Morand knew it was the right path for her.

Pursuing a dream, hobbled by debt

She found an IT job with the New York State Worker’s Compensation Board. There, as she’s done in every job where she’s had the opportunity, she joined her union.

“The first thing I do is sign my union card,” said Morand. “If it wasn’t for the labor union movement, we wouldn’t have the middle class we have. If it wasn’t for unions, we wouldn’t have the benefits we enjoy. I’ve always wanted to make sure those benefits weren’t eroded.”

In 1999, Morand went back to school for her master’s degree in information system engineering at NYU-Polytechnic School of Engineering, which led her to a job with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), and a membership with AFSCME District Council 37.

At FDNY headquarters, Morand would bring her graduate school education to bear, handling everything from networking to database administration to business analysis to project management and much more.

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Morand received a letter in January informing her that two of her student loans had been forgiven.

And she felt honored to work for the fire department. “You’re serving your community. You’re helping to save the lives and property of the citizens of New York,” she said. She would even become president of Local 2627, which represents New York City’s electronic data processing personnel.

While Morand had begun to achieve the American dream – she was earning a decent salary, she’d moved out of the projects, had another child and even bought a home – she remained plagued by student loans she’d accumulated for her and her kids’ educations.

“When I was taking loans out, I saw it as a means for providing for my children. But it was very difficult to pay,” said Morand. “I figured I’d be paying for the rest of my life.”

Thanks to DC 37, Morand was able to receive free legal advice and managed to consolidate and receive forbearance on her loans. DC 37 also provided workshops on enrolling in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which was created to encourage workers to go into public service.

Established in 2007, the program encouraged graduates to pursue jobs in public service. After  working full time at a qualified job in the public sector and making 120 loan payments, the borrower’s loans would be forgiven.

Morand enrolled in the program.

A path out

Last year, Morand caught wind of an important change to the PSLF program – a change that AFSCME fought for.

President Joe Biden issued a temporary waiver (which runs until Oct. 31, 2022) that counts all payments on federal student loans toward PSLF, regardless of loan program or repayment plan. Previously, the PSLF had been mired in problems, with only a tiny fraction of borrowers ever seeing loan forgiveness.

Morand looked into the waiver.

“When I logged into Fedloans, my loan servicer, I saw that there was a program for one year, from October 2021 to October 2022, where you can apply for forgiveness. I applied right away. I took a chance, because I knew I’d been making payment for over 10 years,” said Morand.

Around the second week in January, Morand received an urgent notification through her loan servicer.

“They posted a letter to my account. I got an email from Fedloans saying that action is needed,” said Morand. “I log in and there’s a new letter, right there, that says ‘Congratulations.’ Two of my loans were forgiven.”

Nearly $200,000 in loans had been wiped away. Morand is among the 70,000 borrowers whom the waiver has helped.

“I’m just so grateful,” says Morand – for the waiver, for the work her union has done to make it happen and for helping her navigate the process. “Ten years ago, it was very difficult. When I was raising my kids, I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, we’re able to have more freedom and be comfortable. All those years of suffering seem to be paying off. I feel almost 200,000 pounds lighter.”

Student Debt Resources

AFSCME is committed to providing up-to-date educational tools and resources to help members access student debt relief. Find more information and student loan materials on our Student Debt Resource page.

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