In 2007, the Bush Administration passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA), which created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). The point of this was to encourage professionals to work in public service fields by offering them forgiveness for their federal student loans in exchange for time served. Ostensibly, the program asks borrowers to work full-time for an eligible employer while making 120 monthly payments, then forgives the balance of the debt.

October 1, 2017, was the first day that anyone could be eligible for student loan forgiveness under the act. Since then, 49,000 public sector workers have applied for that forgiveness. More than 32,400 were denied for unmet qualifications. Nearly 5,000 applications are still pending. Of the remainder, 423 were approved by those in charge of the students’ loans, but only 206 borrowers have actually been granted loan relief. That’s about one half of one percent, in case you’re wondering.

Many of those whose applications were refused learned that they had the wrong kind of loan or a repayment plan that didn’t qualify them for the program, information not easily available to them 10 years ago when they set their financial course.

“It’s clear that it’s not working and that public servants who thought they had a deal aren’t getting the benefit of that deal,” said Daniel Zibel, a public sector worker himself and vice president of the National Student Legal Defense Network.

When asked, the Department of Education would not answer questions about the PSLF program on record, except to say that they couldn’t help people navigate the program all along unless they individually asked for help each year by completing an employment certification form every year to ensure they’re on the right track, which has never been advertised.

A written statement from the DoE said that the department is “committed to helping borrowers navigate this complex program.”

The Trump administration wants to cancel the CCRAA in favor of a burden-based payment system which would forgive no debt but give debtors more flexibility in their repayments. Fans of this plan say it will allow the DoE to spread its resources better and improve overall access to higher education.

Detractors of that plan are calling the low approval rate of the PSLF an act of deliberate sabotage.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “Betsy DeVos and her friends in the loan servicing industry are breaking [the promise of the PSLF] and making that program useless. The latest numbers confirm just how insidious and flagrant the Department of Education’s mismanagement and industry abuses have become.

The federal government has recently added limited additional conditions under which students who were denied could become eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. You’d better hurry up and apply, though, because the aid is limited and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

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