According to the Education Department, as of June 2022, more than $9 billion in student loan debt has been forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

According to the Education Department, as of June 2022, more than $9 billion in student loan debt has been forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program jayk7/Getty Images

More than 100 Lawmakers Urge the Biden Administration To Extend Public Service Loan Forgiveness Waivers

Although the Education Department has proposed regulations to make permanent many provisions of a temporary waiver program aimed at making the popular program easier to navigate, those rules won’t take effect until next year.

A group of more than 100 Democratic lawmakers from both chambers of Congress have renewed their efforts to persuade the Biden administration to extend a series of temporary waivers aimed at making the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program easier to use until permanent reforms can be implemented next year.

The popular, yet frustrating, program, which offers college graduates the chance to have their student loans forgiven provided they spend 10 years working for government or a qualifying nonprofit organization and make loan payments throughout that time period. Participants have said stringent rules governing loan payments, and inconsistent information both from the Education Department, contractors that service the program and lenders made it difficult to actually receive forgiveness until recently.

Last October, the Education Department issued a series of waivers and other temporary changes to the program to make it easier for borrowers to qualify, including giving participants a chance to consolidate their loans into the correct Direct Loan program, providing waivers for payments that were calculated incorrectly or were slightly late, as well as offering to review previously denied applications. And in July, the department proposed new regulations that would make many of those temporary fixes permanent.

But the current temporary waivers have an expiration date of Oct. 31, meaning without further action from the administration, there could be an eight-month window where the old system returns, potentially negatively impacting some borrowers.

In a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Monday, more than 100 lawmakers, led by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., in the Senate and Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., in the House, reissued their call, first made in August, for the department to extend the current waivers until the new regulations are implemented next July.

“As you are aware, the limited PSLF waiver, announced last October, has significantly improved the lives of more than 189,000 public servants who have had their student loans forgiven through the program and the 1 million who have received an average of one additional year of PSLF credit,” they wrote. “Given the upcoming Oct. 31, 2022 limited PSLF waiver deadline, we write to reiterate our request that the Department of Education extend its deadline until July 1, 2023—when the department’s new PSLF regulations will take effect—in order to ensure that all public servants with federal student loans are able to benefit from this historic waiver.”

According to data from the Education Department, as of July 31, 91% of borrowers who have had their loans forgiven through the program only were able to do so thanks to the temporary waivers. But the lawmakers noted that there are many program participants who have yet to take advantage of the waivers’ provisions to advance their progress toward loan forgiveness.

“According to the Student Borrower Protection Center’s estimates, only 15% of the 9 million public service workers with student loan debt have filed paperwork to track their qualifying payments under PSLF,” they wrote. “As more than 20 state attorneys general have pointed out, ‘given the essential benefits provided by the limited PSLF waiver, and the fact that fundamental problems with the PSLF program will immediately return (likely in an exacerbated form) upon the waiver’s end, we have grave concerns about the plans to end the waiver . . . before the department’s new PSLF regulations take effect.’”

And extending the waiver could have a unique impact on federal employees and military service members who are counting on the program for future financial security, they argued.

“Though the department has announced that it is currently working to ensure that all federal agencies and departments automatically provide credit for PSLF for members of the military and federal employees, this program is not yet in place,” the lawmakers wrote. “Military and federal data matches are critical to ensuring that the department can identify which borrowers are eligible for PSLF and provide them automatic relief.”