OLYMPIA (April 14, 2022) — Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced a series of improvements to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which is designed to give student debt relief to borrowers who work full time in public service. The program, which originated in 2018, was roundly criticized for rejecting nearly 99 percent of applicants under the Trump administration. But with the new changes, which were spurred by a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of Teachers, there is new optimism that more borrowers can benefit from PSLF.
SB 5847, sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias (D-Everett) — which was approved this year by the Washington State Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee — will publicize the existence of this potentially life-changing program to all public service employees in Washington state. It will also improve the process for PSLF applicants’ certification of public employment, and importantly, ensure that the time that part-time college faculty spend performing additional duties outside of the classroom counts toward their PSLF qualification as public service employees.
The bill was strongly supported by AFT Washington, Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28 (WFSE), Washington Education Association, Washington Public Employees Association/UFCW 365, and other public employee unions, as well as the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
PSLF allows borrowers with federal direct loans who make 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full time for a qualifying employer to have the remainder of their balance forgiven. Qualifying employers include any federal, state, local or tribal governments, and many not-for-profit organizations, including all 501(c)(3) organizations and some others that provide qualifying services. Federal service includes U.S. military service.
WFSE recently profiled Anneliese Simon, a psychiatric social worker at Western State Hospital, who decided to attend the University of Washington Tacoma for a Masters in Social Work. Like her classmates, she was pursuing the degree as an investment in her future. For the last 15 years, she has worked to pay off the $55,000 in loans she accrued during her time in school.
She had previously tried to take advantage of PSLF, but was rejected.
“They were super picky previously,” she said. “They would refuse people over technicalities.”
But that changed last fall after the DOE instituted its reforms. When Simon heard about the PSLF reforms, she decided to give it another try.
“Even if you don’t think you will qualify, try it,” she said. “The worst that is going to happen is they will say no. I spent probably 20 minutes applying, and I had $11,000 in loans forgiven.”
A key change by the DOE was a temporary waiver that allows applicants to “receive credit for past periods of (student loan) repayment that would otherwise not qualify for PSLF.” That waiver, which allows thousands more public service workers to qualify for PSLF this year, expires on Oct. 31, 2022. That’s why SB 5847 included an emergency clause and was implemented immediately with Inslee’s signature on March 30.
Are you a public service worker who may qualify for PSLF? Check out these resources to learn more and check your eligibility:
● Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) website
● Information about the PSLF waiver
● Forgive My Student Debt website
● AFT’s “Summer” online resource for managing student loans
● WFSE’s How to Apply for PSLF: Resources and Tips
With all that public service workers do for our communities, assistance with student loan debt are important steps to reward them for their work and dedication.