More than 100 congressional Democrats signed a letter Tuesday urging the Biden administration to extend a key waiver for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives student loan debt for those who work in public service or other qualifying jobs.
The waiver, set to expire on Oct. 31, allows PSLF-eligible Americans with student loan debt to earn credit for past payments that did not previously qualify under the program.
Tuesday’s letter, led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), requests the Department of Education extend that waiver until July 1, when permanent changes to PSLF will take place.
“Public service workers — particularly those in healthcare and education — continue to face challenges such as burnout and personal sacrifice to keep our nation safe during the pandemic and recovery,” the letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona read. “We ask that the Department extend this deadline in order to ensure that all public servants with federal student loans are able to benefit from this historic waiver.”
Thirty Democratic senators signed the letter along with 87 House Democrats, while 74 organizations, including the Center for American Progress, the Communication Workers of America and the American Psychological Association, also backed the request.
Co-leads on the letter include Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Tim Kaine (Va.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), along with U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes (Md.), Joe Courtney (Conn.), Jahana Hayes (Conn.) and Kathy Manning (N.C.).
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said the “cost of college has forced many students and families to forego their education goals or be trapped in a lifetime of debt,” which she said “means fewer educators in the profession, and more disruptions for their students.”
“We are overwhelmingly grateful for the waiver that has allowed thousands of educators to receive the promise of PSLF, but there are simply too many educators who have been left out to end the waiver now,” Pringle said in a statement Tuesday. “We implore the Biden Administration to keep the promise of PSLF and extend the waiver deadline.”
The news comes ahead of a looming Aug. 31 expiration date on a temporary student loan payment freeze.
On Sunday, Cardonas said an announcement was coming within the next week about student loan debt, which is spread across more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.7 trillion.
It’s unclear if the Biden administration will announce another pause on student loan payments or if Cardona will make a larger announcement on canceling some debt, potentially around $10,000 per borrower.
The administration has forgiven around $32 billion in debt for borrowers who were defrauded or misled by college institutions. About $10 billion of that amount was also forgiven as part of the PSLF program.
The PSLF program, which forgives loan debt after eligible borrowers make a set amount of payments, was created in 2007 to provide relief for employees in nonprofit or government agencies.
It was beset by difficulties for years, with a majority of borrowers unable to qualify for relief because of technical requirements that limited eligibility, including if they submitted a payment late or paid off a loan without an exact amount.
Last year, the Education Department created the waiver to allow forgiveness for past payments deemed ineligible to qualify.
The department also announced changes to simplify the process and eliminate barriers that prevented borrowers from joining the program, including military service members.
The waiver has helped overhaul the PSLF program, but around only around 15 percent of 9 million eligible borrowers have earned relief through the program, according to congressional Democrats.
On Tuesday, Democrats said extending the waiver will “allow more military service members and federal employees to make progress towards PSLF,” noting that it has already “improved the lives” of 164,000 public service employees.
“These borrowers may qualify for immediate forgiveness,” the letter read. “For many public servants, losing access to the PSLF waiver before they are able to benefit from the IDR payment adjustment could prevent them from being able to pursue forgiveness under PSLF.”