On October 15, 2019, Rep. Bobby Scott (D VA), Chairman of the House Education & Labor Committee, introduced the College Affordability Act, H.R. 4674, which would reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The bill would preserve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, making certain technical corrections to how the program works together with loan repayment programs. It also makes new proposals such as the creation of a database of eligible public service jobs -- a response to the 99% rejection rate of applications for forgiveness by the Department of Education. On October 30, 2019, the bill was marked up by the committee and reported out favorably on a party-line vote, 28-22. There is not yet time scheduled for the full House to consider the bill, but there are a number of draft amendments House members hope to introduce, some concerning expansion of PSLF to include farmers, while others may propose to cap how much student loan debt may be forgiven. The ABA is working with other professional service organizations to protect against any amendments that would undermine the effectiveness of PSLF for public interest attorneys and their employers.
The Senate has yet to produce a proposed HEA reauthorization bill. Drafting the legislation has been a slower process because HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R TN) hopes that the bill will be introduced with bipartisan support. Discussions with committee staff, however, have revealed that Chairman Alexander is intent on ending PSLF as we know it, although he may propose an alternative approach. The ABA has been actively engaged in discussions over what that alternative might look like, but no proposal advanced to-date would address the underlying disparity between careers that graduates can afford to pursue vs what public service jobs offer. While PSLF might be improved or tightened, the program has successfully bridged the public service jobs crisis that led to the programs creation through an HEA bill in 2007.