November 19, 2019

Mark up of the College Affordability Act

Are Changes to the PSLF Program on the Horizon?

On October 30, 2019, the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor passed the amended College Affordability Act (CAA), H.R. 4674, and report to the full House of Representatives by a vote of 28-22. Introduced on October 15 by Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), the bill represents the Democratic positions on higher education and lacks any Republican cosponsors. This legislation would reauthorize the Higher Education Act more than 10 years after its last reauthorization. The markup took two days, October 29 and 30, and considered sixty amendments.

The 1,200-page legislation would change the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program to

1.      Provide forgiveness to individuals who may have been denied PSLF previously;

2.      Allow individuals in the wrong repayment plan to count those monthly payments for PSLF once they opt in to the newly created Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan;

3.      Count qualifying payments prior to consolidation toward eventual loan forgiveness;

4.      Expand the PSLF program to include Veteran Service Organizations and farmers;

5.      Make it explicit that physicians working at a non-profit hospital or other health care facility in states that prohibit the direct hiring of these individuals can have their loans forgiven through PSLF;

6.      Allow teachers to count teacher loan payments toward the teacher loan forgiveness program at the same time as PSLF;

7.      Improve PSLF implementation to reduce borrower confusion; and

8.      Require the Department of Education to establish a PSLF-denial appeals process.

There were several amendments that would affect the PSLF program directly, including two which would have phased out the program. These efforts were defeated.

The CAA would also provide expanded access to education through grants, including legal education, and restore Pell grant eligibility for those convicted of a crime.

The Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) reflected upon the accreditation portions of the bill which would also apply to law school accreditation:

CHEA President Judith Eaton said that the bill would be a major expansion of federal authority into accreditation and institutions, replacing academic judgment and decision making. The bill also directs how accrediting organizations are to operate, diminishing the academic oversight of these nongovernmental bodies. The bill takes a major step toward undermining the role that institutional mission plays as the driver of accreditation judgments. Eaton also noted the increased difficulty of sustaining peer review and formative evaluation in judging the quality of institutions in the face of the bill’s provisions. CHEA does not support the bill’s accreditation provisions in their current form, but also indicates CHEA’s willingness to work with lawmakers to improve these provisions.

The CAA may be brought to the House floor for a vote as soon as the end of this year. If so, hundreds of amendments from both parties are expected, including on these items of special interest to the ABA.

No bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act has yet been introduced in the Senate.  However, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), and twenty-five other Senators have cosponsored the What You Can Do for Your Country Act of 2019 (S. 1203) to overhaul the PSLF program and ensure millions of teachers, social workers, members of the military, first responders, nurses, public defenders, and many other public service professionals will qualify for loan forgiveness. No Republicans have cosponsored the bill and no action has been taken on it.

For further developments on the PSLF program, follow us www.ambar.org/PSLF.