U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited the New York State Public Employees Federation Headquarters in Latham Wednesday where she called for reform of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
The program was created by Congress in 2007 to incentivize more students to enter public service by providing loan forgiveness after 10 years of working full-time for a federal, state, local, or tribal government organization or certain nonprofit organizations.
"It means that any student can pursue these career paths knowing that their student loans won't be hanging over their heads for the rest of their lives."
Gillibrand, a Democrat, says the pandemic has made the work of public servants, first responders and "countless others" more important than ever.
"Essential workers who are disproportionately people of color have devoted themselves to keeping our country running and are fighting on the front lines of this unprecedented public health emergency. At the same time, they're also managing extreme job insecurity, dangerous working conditions and unmanageable student debt. In order to give our essential workers the support that they so clearly deserve, we have to address all three of those challenges."
Gillibrand contends flawed implementation of the PSLF program by the U.S. Department of Education and eligibility “donut holes” have resulted in 99 percent of all public servants who have applied for forgiveness being denied relief.
Ralph Maab is among the lucky 1 percent. The graphic designer works for the Department of Motor Vehicles. A loan deferral sent his student loan debt skyrocketing to nearly $100,000.
"Facing such a crippling debt was daunting. I learned about the Public Loan Forgiveness program by stumbling across it on the internet. I applied, consolidated all of my loans into one monthly payment. That was six years ago. My experience with the Public Loan Forgiveness program has been positive. I was faced with what seemed to be an impossible financial obstacle, and now there's a light at the end of the tunnel. The program has greatly helped me, but I'm aware that it is not helping everyone that it's available to. I was able to tell a co-worker about the program and she was able to enroll as well. I feel strongly that public employees should also be able to benefit from this program and find the same debt relief that I should, when this program is over."
PEF union president Wayne Spence:
"Our members have been putting their lives on line to perform their duties during this arguably the most uncertain time in recent history. Looming student loan debt is another stress on top of everything else."
Gillibrand says her "What Can You Do For Your Country Act" would close loopholes in the program, clarify qualifications, streamline the application process and provide guidance to better serve eligible borrowers.
“These public servants have lived up to their end of the bargain. Now the government has to do the same.”
Gillibrand urges Congress to take immediate action on the bill, which she adds would help address the nation's $1.5 trillion dollar student loan debt crisis.