July 25, 2019

ABA Joins Survey to Gather Data, Stories about Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, a cornerstone of the ABA’s advocacy efforts, revolves around student loan forgiveness for professionals who serve in the public sector. After recent enrollment figures fell short of expectations, proponents of PSLF are looking for answers, both inside and outside the halls of Congress, with your help.

The ABA is now joining our partners in The Coalition to Preserve PSLF to crowd-source the data collection needed to understand the inner working of the program. Our coalition partners include nurses, teachers, veterinarians, social workers, first responders, doctors, police and corrections officers, and more, and we are all doing our part to obtain data on PSLF. For example, our ally the National Legal Aid and Defender Association polled its membership and received thousands of responses.  Now it’s the ABA's turn to survey the legal profession.

Take the PSLF Survey

The ABA has taken on this issue because a number of our employees, members and thousands of government and non-profit employees are being denied student loan forgiveness, after believing they had met all program requirements. According to the Department of Education, only 1% of applicants have been granted forgiveness since the program began, and many are rejected due to a misunderstanding of the requirements.

Although meant to encourage graduates to accept jobs in public service and reduce the gap in revenue between public and private service, the program has largely failed to deliver on these promises for most of its applicants.

PSLF was created in 2007 by President George W. Bush to eliminate portions of student debt for eligible non-profit and government employees. To qualifiy for forgiveness, the program requires a person to work for an eligible government organization or non-profit, work at least 30 hours a week, have the correct type of loans, have an eligible repayment plan, and make 120 payments on time. For many, though, the requirements may have been too confusing and retaining eligibility through all ten years proved difficult.

In fact, this lack of understanding resulted in denied applications for a great number of people. Since the program began, over half of those rejected are turned away due to an inability to make qualifying payments. This means that while many applicants made timely payments over the required ten-year period, they were still ineligible because they were simply in the wrong repayment plan and they did not know it until years after they have started their public service.

With the reality of the program’s ineffectiveness in plain sight, many officials have stepped forward with plans for educational reform that range from getting rid of PSLF altogether to revamping the program in a more user-friendly fashion.  President Trump has proposed eliminating PSLF in favor of an income-driven repayment plan. Other presidential nominees, including Senators Warren and Sanders, have proposed plans that would make 4-year colleges free for certain individuals.

The latest legislative proposal has come from presidential nominee and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who introduced the What You Can Do for Your Country Act in April of this year. The bill, sponsored in the House by Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), attempts to simplify the process for those seeking loan forgiveness in exchange for public service. Under the bill, all federal loans and repayment plans would qualify for forgiveness, and the U.S. Department of Education would be required to provide more guidance to applicants of the program. Additionally, qualifying individuals would receive partial forgiveness after five years, and full forgiveness after ten years. To further simplify the program, the Senate bill, co-sponsored by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), proposes an electronic system to upload forms and the creation of a database of qualifying employers.

To sway Congress, the ABA needs facts and figures from lawyers affected by the program.  That is why we launched this survey and urge you to help us get the data we need by taking it.  We also need individual stories about lawyers and their experience with PSLF. If you are willing to take the survey, please click here. If you would like to share your experience with PSLF, please email Eric Storey at eric.storey@americanbar.org.