January 31, 2017

Midyear 2017: Panel to examine rising student debt, ways to manage it

Michael Dumas’ student loans from law school are just starting to kick in. An assistant district attorney in Lewiston, Maine, Dumas graduated last May from the University of Maine School of Law, passed bar and started working in September. 

“If student debt wasn’t real to me before, it is now,” said Dumas who is on the hook for about $150,000 in loans.

While a law student, Dumas worked passionately on issues involving student debt as the American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law liaison to the Law Student Division, where he chaired the Loan Forgiveness Committee. He also led the ABA on student-debt issues as liaison to the ABA Board of Governors when he served as vice chair for the Law Student Division last year.

But Dumas’ familiarity with these issues did not make it any easier when facing his own mountain of debt.

Dumas is not alone. Today education debt has approached $1.4 trillion in the United States, trailing only home mortgages.

To help the millions struggling to pay back their student loans, the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law will host a program during the Midyear Meeting in Miami, “Treading Water: Fighting the Rising Tide of Student Debt” at the Hyatt Regency from 1:15-2:15 p.m. on Feb. 2. A panel will explore debt relief, from pre-borrowing education and navigating repayment, to debt forgiveness and assistance programs. 

In addition to Dumas, the panel will include the moderator, Crystal Araujo, vice-chair, ABA Law Student Division; Whitney Barkley-Denney, legislative policy counsel at Center for Responsibility Lending in Durham, NC; Jennifer E. Nicholls, partner, Brophy Schmor in Medofrd, Ore.; and Scott Sharinn of Sharinn & Lipshie, P.C., of Uniondale, N.Y.

Among issues, Dumas will discuss the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, a federal program that assists those working in public service jobs manage their loans through forgiveness after 10 years of service.

While Dumas had hoped to take advantage of the federal program, the U.S. Department of Education recently decided to retroactively refuse to honor commitments it made under the PSLF program. As a result, the ABA filed a lawsuit against the department in December

Dumas said, “Having debt nearly three times your salary could be extremely daunting at times.”

Dumas is part of the grassroots lobbying effort to keep the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program afloat, so that it could fulfill its promise to those who have dedicated their careers to public service. 

“It’s under attack, to put it blatantly,” Dumas said of the loan forgiveness program.

Dumas hopes those attending the session will walk away with a greater urgency to pressure Congress to pay out from the Loan Forgiveness Program.

“It hasn’t cost the tax payer a cent—it’s just ridiculous to cut it,” Dumas said.