Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released her original report on the shortcomings of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and how it has failed to bring relief to New York borrowers pursuing public service careers. While the program was created to alleviate student loan debt for individuals committed to public service careers for 10 years, PSLF has been plagued by administrative errors and eligibility restrictions that have prevented many Americans from receiving the forgiveness they were promised and have earned. In fact, since its inception, only approximately 1% of all public servants who have applied for the program have received loan forgiveness due to flawed implementation and confusing program requirements. Coupled with the release of her report, Gillibrand is pushing for passage of the What You Can Do for Your Country Act, which would expand PSLF eligibility so that every type of federal loan and repayment plan is included in the program – including FFEL program loans – and would provide a partial forgiveness benefit after five years.
“Since its inception, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program has failed to help ease the student debt burden for our nation’s public servants. As a result, millions of social workers, service members, health care workers, public defenders, and others have been denied the support they earned through their hard work and service to our communities,” said Senator Gillibrand. “New Yorkers disproportionately bear this burden, representing an outsized share of the borrowers denied PSLF forgiveness and carrying more than $8 billion in unforgiven debt. Following through on this promise is a top priority, which is why I issued this report and will continue advocating for the passage of the What You Can Do for Your Country Act. It’s time for Congress to create a fairer and simpler process for public servants seeking loan forgiveness and send a message to future generations that public service is a viable and valued career path for anyone.”
Topline findings from Senator Gillibrand’s report revealed the following:
- 1 out of every 14 PSLF participants denied loan forgiveness lives in New York.
- Only 1.2% of PSLF participants in New York have had their loans forgiven.
- PSLF participants in New York still owe more than $8 billion, representing nearly 10% of all outstanding federal student debt in the state.
The full report can be found here. For New York specific testimonies, please visit pages 2-3.
PSLF’s shortcomings are particularly apparent in New York, which has one of the largest populations of federal, state, and local government employees in the U.S. As of March 2021, New Yorkers’ total federal student loan debt portfolio stood at $91.9 billion. Of that, $8.3 billion – nearly one-tenth – is held by PSLF borrowers with eligible employment who are awaiting forgiveness.
New York PSLF Data as of August 31, 2021
Last week, the Biden administration announced a set of actions to fix the PSLF program, using its executive authority to ease restrictions and make critical program changes on a temporary basis, and is engaging in a rulemaking process for longer term reforms. However, the findings in Senator Gillibrand’s report show that far more must be done to permanently reform PSLF and offer more robust loan forgiveness for New Yorkers and all Americans who commit to public service careers. Gillibrand leads the What You Can Do for Your Country Act, which would expand PSLF eligibility so that every type of federal loan and repayment plan is included in the program – including FFEL program loans – and would provide a partial forgiveness benefit after five years. In fact, more than 12,000 borrowers in New York would have half of their loans forgiven if the bill were signed to law. Specifically, the bill would:
- Reduce confusion surrounding PSLF eligibility – and expand eligibility – by permanently allowing all types of federal loans and repayment plans to qualify. The bill would allow borrowers with both Direct Loans and loans in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program to qualify for forgiveness, and would also allow borrowers to consolidate their loans without losing credit toward forgiveness.
- Provide borrowers forgiveness for half of their loans after five years of public service, instead of making PSLF borrowers wait a full 10 years to receive full forgiveness.
- Ensure that the Department of Education provides public servants with clearer information and guidance on the program.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was established in 2007 to help more students choose careers in public service. The program provides loan forgiveness to eligible Direct Loan borrowers after 10 years of working full-time for federal, state, local, or tribal governments, and certain nonprofit organizations. Senator Gillibrand has repeatedly called for fixes to the PSLF program, especially throughout the duration of the pandemic when essential public service professionals were serving on the front lines. In May of 2021, Gillibrand, alongside U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD), led more than 50 Senate and House colleagues in a letter to the Department of Education calling for increased support for the nation’s public service workers who served on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.