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A Snag in Loan Forgiveness for Feds, Census as a Second Job and More

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The Office of Management and Budget last week encouraged federal agencies to take a number of steps to encourage the temporary hiring of employees from across the country to administer the 2020 Census.

In a memo to agency heads, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney stressed that it is critical that agencies recruit Census Bureau employees to administer the Census within their own community. To that end, he encouraged agencies to waive some rules and to hire current federal workers to join the Census Bureau as a second job.

Mulvaney wrote that some residents can be reluctant to be hired for temporary work because that income can reduce benefits from cash assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. He suggested agencies waive temporary income in determining a Census hire’s eligibility for those programs.

“To overcome these workforce barriers in the 2000 and 2010 Decennial Censuses, the Census Bureau requested that federal and state partners allow programs to waive temporary income earned as a census employee for the purpose of determining program eligibility,” Mulvaney wrote. “OMB encourages agencies administering public assistance programs to exclude temporary income from census employment from eligibility determinations for the 2020 Census.”

Among programs encouraged to waive temporary income are SNAP, TANF, several programs aimed at assisting Native Americans, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Public and Indian Housing.

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Mulvaney cited past success in allowing feds to join the Census.

“OMB, in coordination with [the Commerce Department], encourages agency heads to permit current employees to pursue a second job on the 2020 Census to not only allow the Census Bureau to have access to a larger pool of potential applicants, but also enable it to capitalize upon the vast experience that federal workers have to offer,” he said. “This initiative proved to be an important source of manpower for the 2010 Census, where partnerships were established with 81 federal agencies. The Census Bureau dually-employed 6,406 federal employees, along with 16,172 state, local and tribal government employees nationwide.”

Hiring for temporary Census positions is slated to begin in January 2019.

Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office audit of a program designed to help public servants, including federal employees, pay down their student loans found that the vast majority of applicants have been denied by the Education Department.

As of April 2018, more than 1.1 million people had requested to be certified as eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives borrowers of their student loans provided they spend 10 years working in public service. Of that number, 890,516 were certified as eligible. But of the 19,321 borrowers who have formally submitted a loan forgiveness application, only 55 have been approved.

GAO found that the Education Department has failed to adequately inform borrowers of the requirements of the program, and has not cooperated with the contractor that administers the program, FedLoan. Although the Trump administration had previously proposed sunsetting the program, Congress has not gone ahead with that plan in its appropriations bills.

“Education provides piecemeal guidance and instructions to the PSLF servicer it contracts with to process certification requests and loan forgiveness applications,” GAO wrote. “This information is fragmented across the servicing contract, contract updates, and hundreds of emails. As a result, PSLF servicer officials said their staff are sometimes unaware of important policy clarifications.”

The watchdog agency recommended that the Education Department work toward issuing comprehensive guidance and instructions for FedLoan, provide additional information to both FedLoan and borrowers about what jobs qualify for the program, and take other measures to avoid confusion between the department, the contractor and prospective applicants. Education Department officials concurred with the recommendations and said they have begun to provide better information to all parties.

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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