The Education Department’s program to forgive student loans for public servants such as teachers and nurses wasn’t working. Too many people were being rejected after years of paying their loans and expecting forgiveness. So Congress passed Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness, to make sure more of the people whose work for the common good has earned them a break on their loans were being included. But Betsy DeVos’ Education Department is rejecting 99% of the applicants for the program that was supposed to be a chance to get loan forgiveness right.
NPR reports that a new Government Accountability Office report finds that the Education Department got around 54,000 requests for forgiveness under the new program. It approved 661 of them, spending $27 million of the $700 million in funding Congress had approved.
Nearly three out of four of the denials were for one reason: People had looked at the original Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and seen that they would not qualify, so they went straight to applying under the TEPSLF program, only to be told they had to first be formally rejected by PSLF before they could qualify for TEPSLF. If reading that sentence felt confusing and nonsensical, imagine living through it in slow motion with your financial future on the line. And the be-rejected-to-be-allowed-to-apply rule was not imposed by Congress. It was just how the Education Department decided to do things.
According to the GAO, the Education Department “has not created a borrower-friendly TEPSLF process,” which is putting it mildly. “This does not align with Education’s strategic plan objective to improve the quality of service to customers across the student aid life cycle.” Is there really a strategic plan objective to improve customer service, though? Because that sure has not looked like the plan on a number of fronts.
Public service loan forgiveness is a really simple, easy-to-understand concept: If you work in certain public service professions and pay your student loans for 10 years, the remainder of your loans go away. Yet somehow the initial version of the program was so poorly handled that it required a do-over, which now turns out to be just as much of a disaster. This shouldn’t be this hard, and it should be fixed, now.