The popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is on the chopping block. Here’s what this means for the current and future state of American public service workers.
In the Trump Administration’s latest proposal to combine the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, they have also proposed eliminating the Public Service Loan program for new borrowers. The key word here is “new borrowers”. Theoretically, this means the change wouldn’t affect people already enrolled and making payments in the program, but would instead prevent any new people from enrolling once enacted.
If you are reading this and just about to enter undergraduate or graduate school to pursue a degree in public service, or you are about to graduate with a public service or non-for-profit related degree and are investigating repayment plans, this information is for you.
For some background, here is the basic philosophy behind the “Public Service Loan Forgiveness” (PSLF) program in its current state and how it works:
The federal government loans money to someone so they can pursue an education that will help launch them into a career in public service (i.e., government work, social services, non-profit work, education, etc.). Because the earning potential in these careers is modest, at best, the PSLF program is designed to create an incentive for people to take up these very much needed and valuable career paths by promising to forgive the balance of their student loan debt after ten (10) years of consistent payments.
Once one makes 120 consistent payments (10 years), and completes the appropriate documentation to show they have made qualifying payments towards their loans, one then applies for the debt forgiveness and their remaining principal and interest balance is wiped clean. There is a lot of paperwork and documenting of income and work history along the way to ensure eligibility, but the process has been streamlined over the last few years to make this annual process very easy. It sounds like a lot to deal with, but it is totally worth the hassle in the long run, especially if you have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
Like many Americans, I have a lot of student loan debt. Like, a lot. But because of the type of work I do, I have been fortunate to qualify for this repayment program. However, it is very concerning to me that the PSLF program is on the chopping block for elimination in the FY19 federal budget, and could potentially discourage millions of other eager young Americans interested in a career in non-profit, public service work.
Social services and non-profits are what help hold communities together, and continually fill the voids left by existing (or non-existing) federal, state, and local government programs (i.e., public arts education, non-profit shelters and relief centers, etc., ). My organization alone reaches tens of thousands of local students in Arizona, and provides them with access to arts education activities, many of which have been reduced or eliminated in their schools.
Non-profit and public service work is invaluable to the health of our communities. And as we see an ever more present need for people to enter these fields of service to meet the demands of their communities, our federal government is proposing enacting policies that will only discourage and create disincentives for doing so.
If you think you might currently be eligible for the PSLF program, will be eligible for it upon graduation, or are just genuinely concerned about its future, here are some things you can do right now:
- Call or write your congressman and senator, and express your support for continuing this program in its current form. If you don’t know who these people are, you can easily find out here.
- After you contact these people, and you get a sense of where they stand on the issue, VOTE for them (or against) them, depending on your inclination, in the next primary and general election. To find out when your state’s next primary election is (hint: they’re all happening right now or very soon), go here. The next general election for Congress is November 6, 2018. Mark your calendars.
- Continue to read and follow the news around this issue. Set Google alerts for “PSLF” and “Public Service Loan Forgiveness”. Staying current and informed is the only way to arm oneself with the information necessary to know how to move forward.
For further reading on this topic, here is a great post about the ten most common mistakes people make in relation to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.