Bonamici Holds Discussion About Empty Promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
PORTLAND, OR [09/13/2019] – Today Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) convened a group of Oregonians to learn more about the challenges they have encountered with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which promises to forgive the balance of student loans after borrowers complete 10 years of qualified public service and make 120 qualifying loan payments.
In recent weeks, Bonamici has been circulating a survey about student loan debt. The survey has drawn more than 600 responses so far, with many of the participants mentioning serious concerns about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. PSLF was intended to incentivize graduates with student loan debt to pursue careers in public service. Some of those who responded to the survey joined today’s roundtable.
Problems with PSLF and the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program, a fix Congress intended to provide relief to qualified borrowers who have struggled with the PSLF, have resulted in only about 1 percent of applicants qualifying for forgiveness. Participants in today’s roundtable included teachers, psychologists, public interest lawyers, community organizers, and academic administrators.
“We need people who dedicate their careers to public service – including teachers, health care workers, and non-profit leaders -- for our communities to thrive,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “People across Oregon and our country took jobs in public service and planned their lives around the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, only to discover it was an empty promise. I am grateful for those who had the courage to share their experiences with this program. They and many other borrowers have upheld their end of the bargain, and I will do all I can to make sure the Department of Education does the same."
“I made 120 months of qualifying payments into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, but I had to fight tooth and nail to get the Department of Education to forgive my debt,” said Kristy Fouts, a fifth-grade teacher in Beaverton. “Two months of payments didn’t count because the amount of my automatic withdrawal was a few cents off through no fault of my own. The Department has the capability to fix these problems, but they don’t do it until you start complaining. I had to seek help from outside agencies, including Congresswoman Bonamici’s office and the ombudsman at the Department of Education, before I was finally successful.” Only 1.1 percent of the 76,000 people who applied to have their loans forgiven have been successful.
“People enter public service because they’re passionate about their work,” said Holly Pennock, a paralegal from St. Helens. “At the Oregon Law Center we are able to hire some of the best and brightest law school graduates to serve our community because of the promise that their loans could be forgiven. I’m also sixty-one years old and struggling to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Despite a long, successful career, I’m fearful that I will never be able to retire.”
“I’ve been engaged for three years and can’t get married because then my partner’s income would be counted toward my income-driven repayment program,” said Blair Denniberg, an executive assistant from Portland. “I consolidated my loans because the Department of Education told me I couldn’t qualify for the program until I did—but then I lost four years of payments. It’s extremely frustrating to feel like my partner’s and my happiness is on hold because of student loan debt.”
Bonamici plans to share some of the stories she heard during today’s roundtable at an oversight hearing on PSLF and TEPSLF, which the House Education and Labor Committee scheduled for Sept. 19.
She is also continuing her work on the bipartisan SIMPLE Act, which will reduce student loan defaults by connecting struggling borrowers with income-driven repayment plans so they can repay their student loan debt based on financial ability.