The ABA and the Fight for PSLF
The Coalition to Preserve PSLF
When the Obama administration proposed cutting PSLF, and Congress and the Trump administration recently tried ending the program, the ABA led the way against those efforts. The ABA helped to assemble the largest national coalition of graduate professional service organizations, the Coalition to Preserve PSLF, consisting of more than 90 organizations that believe PSLF is of vital importance for the well-being of communities across our country. We are active in the coalition to this day.
ABA Lawsuit against the US Department of Education
The fight for PSLF took on a different venue in early 2016 when we learned that the Department of Education (ED) had rejected some applications from American Bar Association employees to certify that their employment at the ABA qualified for the federal PSLF program. In a few instances, employees received notices that retroactively rescinded earlier approvals. ED did not provide any explanation for these changes.
Finding such determinations totally unacceptable and convinced the ED’s new position was wrong, the ABA commenced several actions to ensure otherwise-eligible employees would again qualify under PSLF and that retroactive rescissions would not stand. The goal has been to ensure PSLF application for all members of the ABA staff.
In December 2016, after talking and corresponding with government agencies and association partners, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, did not solve our problems, the ABA filed a federal lawsuit against the US Department of Education to ensure PSLF participants—promised loan forgiveness in exchange for their work in public service jobs—are treated fairly.
Following motions and hearings, the federal court decided in February 2019 that ED arbitrarily and capriciously changed PSLF to exclude some public service lawyers.
Later in 2019, ED declined to appeal and instead restored loan payment credit to the ABA and other public service lawyers.
ABA Settlement Agreement with the US Department of Education
Most recently, on February 18, 2020, the American Bar Association reached a settlement agreement with the ED. Under the settlement, the ED restored its historical recognition of employment at the ABA as eligible for PSLF, while retaining the ability to revisit that decision should the ABA become a business organized for profit or should the ABA cease to provide a public service or should the ED adopt a new definition for “public service organization.”
Years of Lobbying Efforts by ABA Government Affairs Office Pay Off
The ABA Government Affairs Office (GAO) has worked all this time to identify and develop sympathetic members of the US House and Senate who might support PSLF. For two consecutive years, we have pushed the issue during ABA Day in Washington, including hundreds of meetings discussing PSLF and about 140 emails sent to the Hill on PSLF. GAO arranged for Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) to speak on ABA Day about PSLF.
Years of lobbying efforts have resulted in the Senate and House Democrats rallying around pro-PSLF legislation entitled the What You Can Do for Your Country Act, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), S. 1203, and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD), H.R. 2441. Moreover, the US House Committee on Education and Labor has passed a comprehensive higher education reauthorization bill, sponsored by Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), with needed improvements to PSLF.
Furthermore, Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray’s (D-WA) staunch support of PSLF halted Chairman Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) planned elimination of PSLF in the higher education reauthorization bill. Originally intended to be bipartisan, a higher education reauthorization bill has yet to be introduced in this 116th Congress by Senator Alexander.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018
Finally, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 created the Temporary Extended PSLF program to provide relief for students who applied for PSLF but were denied only because some or all of the payments were not made under a qualifying repayment plan for PSLF.
The ABA Continues to Fight for Your Access to PSLF
If you would like to lend your voice to the discussion, you can use the congressional messaging system on the ABA Grassroots Action Center to send a message directly to your elected officials, which is guaranteed to make it through congressional firewalls. Just go to ambar.org/grassroots to see how you can support this vital issue.