A new public petition is asking the Obama administration to help federal employees by forgiving some student loan debt to offset the pay freeze, now in its third year.
The online petition, posted on the administration’s We the People website, recommends reducing by 2.2 percent the principal balance of student loans for federal workers retroactively for every year the pay freeze has been -- and will be -- in effect. President Obama and Congress imposed a two-year pay freeze on federal civilian workers, which began in 2011. Congress recently extended the pay freeze, which affects the annual, across-the-board pay bump for civilian government workers, through 2013.
The petition, created Tuesday, had 10 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. The White House formally responds to petitions that receive 100,000 signatures within a month.
Even if the administration agreed to such a proposal -- and that’s an enormous if -- agencies are not likely to use funds for what many view as a perk at a time when they are trying to avoid furloughs because of the sequester. The federal student loan repayment program permits agencies to repay federally-insured student loans to recruit or retain highly-skilled employees, and its implementation varies widely throughout the government.
A January 2013 report from Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry to Congress said 34 agencies provided more than 10,000 employees more than $71.8 million in student loan repayment benefits in 2011. Most of the benefits were provided to employees of the Defense, Justice and State departments, the report indicated.
The program apparently does not have too many fans among House Republicans. The House-passed fiscal 2014 budget resolution, shepherded by Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, eliminates the student loan repayment program for federal employees.