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Help us save Public Service Loan Forgiveness – and we do mean today!

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Podcast: Why Washington should save Public Service Loan Forgiveness

If you want to make a difference to preserve Public Service Loan Forgiveness, this is that time, today’s the day. Tell your elected officials to oppose the PROSPER Act – now.

The ABA got word that House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, will be checking with House members tonight to determine if there is ample support for H.R. 4508, the PROSPER Act (which doesn’t have a summary yet), to start formal operations with an eye of moving the bill to the floor as early as next week. The PROSPER Act would reauthorize the Higher Education Act – and end PSLF.

This would affect public servants working not only in our legal field, but those working in:

  • Public Health: Nurses, veterinarians, first responders, doctors, social workers, and food safety professionals
  • Public Education: Public and parochial school teachers, special education professionals
  • Public Safety: Police and corrections officers, prosecutors and public defenders

The message, in sum, is:

PSLF serves an important purpose that benefits the public. Repeal of PSLF would harm state and local organizations that provide critical services to the public, especially for those in rural areas, tribal lands, and other under-resourced communities (e.g., inner-city).

PSLF should be allowed to continue to function as envisioned until there has been an opportunity to assess the impact of the program. Any attempt to reduce or eliminate the program should include an effective alternative strategy for addressing the underlying problem that PSLF addresses.

Add your voice to preserve PSLF!

Our stance and support are principled in a meaningfully bipartisan way, reflected in the bipartisan congressional caucus to support preserving PSLF.

The legal community joins more than 90 organizations formally opposing elimination of PSLF, including the Department of Defense and national military & veteran services organizations. No organization has been able to get the kinds of commitments we were able to get on ABA Day, however. Your voices will matter, and they will be heard today more than ever.

What you can do

Contact Congress and tell your senators and representatives to preserve Public Service Loan Forgiveness and vote against the PROSPER Act. Tell them:

  • PSLF is essential for the recruitment and retention of public servants
  • To earn PSLF, a public servant must make 120 on-time monthly payments while employed at a government or nonprofit organization
  • This is the only program that serves a majority of public servants

The coalition has a form that will generate an e-mail that is sent directly to your representative. The letter reads:

As your constituent, I am contacting you about an issue that is incredibly important to me. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a program that ensures those with a passion to serve their community can afford to do so.

PSLF is an essential tool for local governments, nonprofits, and the military to recruit and retain top talent. We need PSLF because we need public servants.

Please let me know that you will vote against any bill that proposes to cap or eliminate PSLF.

The snail mail version of this letter is also available.

Why the ABA supports PSLF

From April 10-12, during ABA Day in Washington, D.C., state, local and specialty bar leaders – including from the ABA and the Law Student Division – gathered in the nation’s capital to lobby officials on a variety of issues including Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

What follows is the ABA’s policy points on the PSLF program:

Purpose of PSLF. The federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program was created in 2007 in response to the concerns of public sector employers over their difficulties attracting and retaining skilled professionals to fill chronically vacant positions. The program provides employers an invaluable resource by lowering the primary barrier keeping new graduates from pursuing public service careers – student loan debt. An advanced degree frequently is a condition of professional licensure, as it is for lawyers, but the higher student debt incurred in obtaining these degrees effectively prevents borrowers from accepting or staying in low-paying public service jobs.

Eligibility for PSLF. Under the program, borrowers who have made 120 timely payments on their federal Direct Loans while employed full-time in qualifying public service jobs are eligible to receive forgiveness of whatever portion of their loan remains after completing the payments. Under the Department of Education regulations, a qualifying public service job is a full-time position working for a federal, state, or tribal government entity (including the military), 501(c)(3) organizations, or other nonprofits that provide specific types of qualifying public services.

Lawyers often incur significant student loan debt that deters them from lower-paying public service jobs. Without PSLF, law school graduates considering public service would face 20 years or more of student loan payments, during which time their loan balance would increase. These men and women would further need to forego major life decisions and expenses, all in the name of pursuing laudable careers.

Eighty percent of law students take out student loans to attend law school. On average, those who graduate from a private law school incur law school debt of $122,000 and those who graduate from public law schools incur $88,000. These sums are in addition to an average of $30,000 in undergraduate debt. The promise of PSLF makes it feasible for a young lawyer with a staggering amount of debt to choose a career as a legal aid attorney, public defender, or prosecutor − jobs with typical starting salaries of $50,000 or less that are essential to the functioning of our justice system.

People in other professions that provide the public with a continuum of care, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, and first responders, face similar financial obstacles and likewise are eligible for the program.

PSLF is under threat of elimination. PSLF has become caught in the crosshairs of larger discussions about higher education affordability that fail to take into consideration the important purpose of the program. Both the President’s FY 2018 budget and H.R. 4508, legislation known as the PROSPER Act (Foxx, R- NC), would eliminate PSLF as part of a plan to reform federal student lending. An amendment to preserve PSLF under the PROSPER Act, which had bipartisan support, failed by one vote during committee consideration. The legislation was reported by the Committee on Education and the Workforce last December and awaits action on the House floor.

Arguments supporting repeal of PSLF have relied on anecdotes, cost estimates based on inadequate data, and an inaccurate understanding of the program’s purpose and operation.

The first cohort of borrowers became eligible for the program this past fall. At present, there are no statistics with regard to the cost of the program for 2017. Two government studies of PSLF have been completed – one in 2015 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO-15-663) and the other this past February by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Education (ED-OIG/AIG9Q0003) – and both concluded that the Education Department has failed to provide the information necessary to inform decision makers and the public about the program or its cost to the taxpayer.

The American Bar Association urges Congress to preserve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

  • PSLF should be allowed to continue to function as envisioned until there has been an opportunity to assess the impact of the program. Any attempt to reduce or eliminate the program should include an alternative strategy for addressing the underlying problem PSLF addresses.
  • PSLF serves an important purpose that benefits the public. Repeal of PSLF would harm state, local, and tribal communities by denying them a tool that enables them to provide critical services to their residents.

Add your voice to preserve PSLF!

What the coalition says about the PROSPER Act

Here is the coalition’s statement about the proposed legislation:

The proposed HEA reauthorization bill is misguided and hurts the ability of current and future public service professionals to contribute to communities across our nation. By eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), it removes a vital program that has enabled thousands of Americans to answer the call to serve their country through public service.

As the voice of public service professionals across America, we strongly oppose the bill for the following reasons:

This bill cuts off our ability to successfully recruit top talent for critical public service positions.

  • PSLF has become an important tool for attracting and retaining employees in critical government and non-profit jobs that support society’s well-being.
  • By allowing borrowers who work in public sector and non-profit jobs to earn forgiveness on eligible federal loans after making ten years’ worth of on-time monthly loan payments, PSLF encourages individuals to pursue careers as teachers, social workers, police officers, firefighters, prosecutors, nurses, and other needed professionals.

This bill eliminates a program before we have data on its actual cost in comparison to realized benefits.

  • Only now are borrowers who have worked in public sector jobs for 10 years and made consistent payments on their student loans becoming eligible for forgiveness. Eliminating the program prematurely without having substantial data on the number of borrowers that actually receive forgiveness and accurate assessments of its fiscal and social impact is bad policy.
  • The cost of the program has to be weighed against its benefits. PSLF ensures the delivery of critical services for the health, safety, and stability of communities across the country and helps reduce reliance on federal, state, and local assistance programs.

The bill hurts communities and our country.

  • PSLF is vital for communities across our country, but is especially important for rural communities, which have a harder time recruiting talented college graduates to fill critical public service jobs.

Sources: The American Bar Association, The Coalition to Preserve PSLF.

ABA Law Student Division The Law Student Division empowers law student by providing them with meaningful connections to practicing professionals, job resources, relevant programming, and practical skills competitions. We represent the law student community by advocating for policies that improve legal education, champion diversity, and strengthen public service.