Education Dept sets deadline for Public Service Loan Forgiveness waiver

The Education Department's waiver to broaden eligibility for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program will expire on Oct. 31.

The Education Department is trying to make it easier for public servants to receive student debt relief, but the changes to the federal relief program are only temporary.

The agency added a waiver to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, in an effort to help more public servants receive debt relief, but to qualify for the program, applications must be in by Oct. 31.

The PSLF program, in part, aims to encourage more college graduates to join the federal service. Borrowers who have worked for 10 years in federal service, or for a non-profit, the military, or a state, tribal or local government, are eligible to apply for the PSLF program, to have all of their student loans forgiven. But since its creation in 2007, the program has had a host of issues in its execution.

“Because of complex eligibility restrictions, historic implementation failures and poor counseling given to borrowers, many public service servants have not received the credit they deserve for their public service,” a senior administration official at the White House said at an Aug. 24 press briefing.

To try to solve some of the challenges, the department temporarily expanded eligibility for the program by adding a waiver that applicants can fill out. The waiver qualifies, for example, borrowers who didn’t serve their 10 years of public service consecutively. And, those who have served fewer than 10 years can still get some credit toward forgiveness for the time they have served. Eligible borrowers can also reapply for the program, even if they’ve been previously denied.

The department has also proposed other changes to the PSLF program to make it more accessible. The agency, for example, recommended expanding the types of payments the program will accept, including partial lump sum and late payments. The proposed changes would build on parts of the limited-time PSLF program alterations that began last October, the agency wrote in a July 6 press statement.

Democratic lawmakers, though, called on the Biden administration to extend the temporary waiver, until more permanent changes can take effect in the PSLF program. In an Aug. 23 letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, 118 Democrat Congress members urged the agency to extend the PSLF waiver deadline until at least July 1, 2023. The deadline matches the date that the department’s proposals to improve the program are set to take effect.

“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 wrote. “Currently, only an estimated 15% of the 9 million public service workers with student debt have filed paperwork to track their qualifying payments under PSLF.”

The lawmakers added that the waiver has already resulted in more than $9 billion in forgiveness for over 146,000 public servants.

“To date, the waiver has been overwhelmingly successful in reducing barriers for borrowers to receive PSLF relief—accounting for almost all (89%) of the borrowers who have received forgiveness through the PSLF program through June 30, 2022,” the lawmakers wrote.

Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said in an Aug. 24 video message that the temporary changes make it easier for federal student loan borrowers to get their debt canceled or receive credit toward forgiveness.

The changes to the program are tied to the Biden administration’s efforts to “recruit, retain and honor our federal government workers,” she added.

The Education Department is also tasked with several other loan forgiveness initiatives, after the White House announced plans to reform the PSLF program. The department will offer $20,000 to individuals who have received Pell Grants, federal student aid awards for low-income students. Borrowers who were not Pell Grant recipients, but whose annual income was below $125,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be eligible for up $10,000 in debt relief, the department said in a press statement on Aug. 24. The department has also laid out steps that individuals can take to start claiming their debt relief.

The PSLF program’s temporary waiver will expire on Oct. 31. Those who believe they qualify for the debt relief program can apply for the program and fill out the waiver at this website.

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