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ABA sues feds to protect loan promises

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Are you worried about another difficult test even after you graduate—how you’ll handle the burden of repaying the cost of your education? You’re not alone, and the American Bar Association is working on the issue.

In December 2016, the ABA and four attorneys with that very worry sued the U.S. Department of Education. Their claim: It improperly altered its execution of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to the determent of dedicated public servants in the legal field.

The lawsuit, which is supported by the ABA Law Student Division, came after the DoE retroactively disqualified multiple employers, including the ABA, from approval for the PSLF program. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the ABA and four other plaintiffs, all of whom have worked for the ABA.

“The PSLF program promised these dedicated lawyers a chance at financial stability in return for doing public service work,” said Linda Klein, ABA president, in a statement. “These people had the rug pulled out from under them. We cannot tolerate these actions by the Department of Education.”

Klein also talked about the issue in a recent edition of The Law Student Podcast.

Suddenly, everything changed

In 2007, the PSLF program was enacted as a part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. The program includes charitable nonprofits with 501(c)(3) status and other nonprofits that “provide certain types of qualifying services,” including public education. The first forgiveness of loans is expected in October 2017.

Lawyers who participate in the program are required to pursue full-time public-service careers; they’re required to make loan payments for 10 years while working in jobs that provide services, such as “public interest law services,” among many others.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have spent up to nine years in these specific areas and were notified by the DoE that their employment no longer qualified and that all previous loan payments while under that employer wouldn’t count toward the program.

In addition, the ABA, which has 501(c)(6) status, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and some American Civil Liberties Union offices were recently denied certification for the PSLF program despite having been approved in previous years.

The complaint reads, in part, “With no warning and no coherent explanation, the department changed its mind. As a result, these individuals…saw their hopes of future financial security suddenly dashed. Many nonprofit organizations… will now struggle to attract and retain talented, committed professionals that the organizations need to address critical unmet public needs. The Department’s actions violate law and are contrary to the basic principles of fairness and deeply damaging to the critical public service missions of these plaintiffs and the ABA.”

Over the past year, the ABA has met with DoE representatives to address the issue. The lawsuit was filed after it received notification the DoE was standing by its decision.

Lynae Tucker

Lynae Tucker Lynae Tucker is a former Student Editor for Student Lawyer Magazine, She is a J.D. candidate at the University of South Dakota and recieved her Communications and Media degree from DePaul University. She hopes to pursue an LLM in Employment law post-graduation. She gained experience in television, radio and print media through student media and philanthropy work.