Lawmakers Introduce Public Service Loan Forgiveness Fixes, and More
A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.
Democrats in both chambers of Congress last week introduced legislation aimed at codifying a number of recently announced reforms to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, as well as additional fixes that could not be implemented administratively.
Improving the popular, yet frustrating, program by which federal employees and workers at state and local governments and qualifying nonprofit organizations can have their student debt forgiven provided they make payments over the course of a decade has been a priority for the Biden administration. Last October, the Education Department announced several temporary waivers to help people who have tried to comply by the program’s many requirements.
And earlier this month, the department proposed 750 pages of regulations that would make many of those reforms permanent.
Last week, Democrats in both the House and Senate introduced a bill that would codify those changes in law, as well as provide the Education Department with the authority to make permanent the waivers that had to remain temporary.
In addition to codifying the temporary waivers, the Second Chance at Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act, introduced by Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Donald Norcross, both D-N.J., allows public servants with loans or service prior to 2007 to qualify for the program, replacing the requirement that borrowers submit 120 monthly payments with a simpler requirement that they work in a public service job for 10 years. The bill also would ensure that Parent PLUS loans qualify for forgiveness, clarify that “full time” work means 30 hours or more per week, and provides additional clarity on what types of positions qualify as public service.
“From day one, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program has been plagued with issues and inadequate oversight, resulting in less than 10% of applicants being approved for loan forgiveness despite their dedicated service to our nation,” Menendez said. This legislation aims to fix these longstanding issues and deliver on the promise of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program by repaying those who dedicate their lives to serve and improve our communities with student loan forgiveness."
House Dem Pushes Updated Workplace Safety Bill
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., last week reintroduced a new version of his bill aimed at ensuring federal employees stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been updated to include language that also covers the potential for future public health emergencies.
The Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act (H.R. 8466), named after one of Connolly’s constituents who died after he was exposed to COVID-19 on the job, requires the heads of all federal agencies to consult with their human capital officers and administrative directors to establish and publish workplace safety plans within 60 days. Those plans must address testing plans for employees and contractors, contract tracing, vaccine administration, cleaning protocols, the supply of personal protective equipment, and methods to protect employees who work outside of federal buildings or when they’re on official travel.
Unlike previous versions of the bill, its language has been updated to require workplace safety plans to cover all potential future pandemics and other public health emergencies, not just COVID-19. The House passed the original version of the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act in October 2020, but the bill has never advanced in the Senate, despite being reintroduced there in July 2021.
“This morning, I introduced an updated version of the Chai Suthammanont Act, which seeks to codify safety procedures for the federal workforce across the board, extending beyond the COVID-19 pandemic,” Connolly said last week. “Specifically, the bill would require the heads of each federal agency to: establish a plan containing procedures and policies for the safety of federal employees, contractors and subcontractors physically present at any covered worksite during a nationwide public health emergency declared for an infectious disease; and ensure that employees are made aware of expectations, procedures and policies that can protect them.”