Congress told 80,000 firefighters and teachers it would forgive their student loans. Over 10 years later, a tangle of mismanagement has kept them from receiving anything.

betsy devosEducation Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster

  • The New York Times reported that the federal government has rejected more than 80,000 low-paid professionals from student debt forgiveness. More than 99% of applicants for loan forgiveness get rejected.
  • Congress created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to encourage graduates to go into low-paid but necessary jobs, such as teaching and law enforcement.
  • According to the Times, loan servicers told many applicants they were on track for loan forgiveness, only to ultimately reject their application. Loan servicers also did not communicate the qualifications for the PSLF adequately, according to the report.
  • Many professionals looking for loan forgiveness include teachers, who get paid 20% less than other professions with a bachelor's degree.
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Despite Congress promising widespread student loan forgiveness over 10 years ago, over 80,000 workers - many of them teachers, police officers, and firefighters - have yet to see their debt removed.

Congress created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) in 2007 to encourage graduates to go into low-paying but necessary jobs - such as teaching and law enforcement - without worrying about paying off student loans. Qualifying graduates need to work full-time for federal, state, and local government agencies, make 120 on-time payments, and work a decade in their respected field.

Yet since 2017, the first loan forgiveness year, more than 80,000 professionals had been denied student loan debt forgiveness, according to a New York Times report by Erica L. Green and Stacy Cowley. Fewer than 1% of applicants in 2017 got accepted that year. The writers reported that mismanagement, poor record keeping, and miscommunication from the forgiveness program are to blame.

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, the unit that manages PSLF and has a contractual relationship with the Department of Higher Education, failed to accurately track monthly payments for the PLSF applicants, the Times reported. The agency told many applicants they were on track for loan forgiveness, but ended up rejecting their application for not meeting requirements.

The shoddy management of PSLF has driven some professions, most notably teaching, into a crisis.

Public school teachers already earn nearly 20% less than other jobs that require a bachelor's degree, and many of them get even higher levels of education. The American Federation of Teachers union sued the Department of Education for failing to step in and correct the mistakes. A union-sponsored survey found a third of teachers have defaulted on their student loans.

Some jobs that qualify for public service loan forgiveness have higher rates of depression and suicide than the general population. Emergency responders have higher rates of suicide than the general public, and many of them work multiple jobs to make ends meet, MONEY Magazine's Kristen Bahler reported.

Some of the rejections are due to miscommunication on part of private loan servicers. Congress mandated all PSLF applicants take out federal loans, not bank loans, and to pay back the debt using a program tied to their incomes. Many applicants weren't aware of these rules, the Times reported.

Business Insider contacted the Department of Education for additional comment.

Read the full story at The New York Times »

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