Almost all teachers (and other officials) who requested a loan forgiveness were turned down
Last year, Congress expanded a program to cancel student loans for more public servants, such as teachers. But a new government watch report found that 99% of those who applied were rejected by the US Department of Education.
According to the United States Government Accountability Office report, the Department of Education processed about 54,000 loan forgiveness requests under the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan forgiveness program and only accepted 661. It granted approximately $ 27 million in forgiveness. loan, but Congress allocated $ 700 million.
The civil service loan forgiveness program, which was established in 2007 and began reviewing applications in 2017, has been criticized for its overly complicated and poorly communicated requirements. It aims to write off student debt for certain categories of public service workers, including teachers, after borrowers have made 120 monthly loan payments over the course of a decade or more.
But the department approved so few requests that federal lawmakers stepped in to create the temporary expanded program, hoping to break down barriers for borrowers who were on repayment plans that were not eligible for the PSLF. .
Still, it didn’t work: Melissa Emrey-Arras, who led the GAO review, told NPR the results were disheartening. (NPR first obtained a copy of the report.)
“I mean, the hope is that you have this temporary expanded process, and you want it to help a lot of people,” she said. “And you don’t want borrowers to be confused about the eligibility criteria and face a high refusal rate. And yet, this is what we found.
The Education Department asked borrowers requesting loan forgiveness under the Temporary Expanded Program to submit a separate PSLF application, even if they were not eligible for the PSLF. This was confusing for borrowers, according to the GAO report, and “as a result, some eligible borrowers may miss the opportunity to have their loans canceled.”
Indeed, 71 percent of refused applications were rejected because the borrower had not submitted a PSLF application.
The GAO report also notes that some of the ministry’s online resources for borrowers do not include information about the Temporary Expanded Program.
The report recommends that the ministry include a checkbox to request the Temporary Expanded Program on the PSLF app, so borrowers have a transparent way to request a loan forgiveness. He also suggests that loan services and the ministry include more information about the Temporary Expanded Program online and in rejection letters. The ministry accepted these recommendations, the report notes.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education told NPR that a number of these efforts are already underway. “The ministry has taken steps to help borrowers better understand the complex eligibility requirements, the application process, benefits and other information related to the PSLF and TEPSLF programs,” she said.
Teachers, nurses and other public servants are supposed to be eligible for a federal loan forgiveness. This summer, the American Federation of Teachers sued US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, arguing that it has “done nothing to remedy the serious mismanagement” of the PSLF. The federal lawsuit represents eight AFT members who say they were unable to receive a loan forgiveness due to administrative errors and inaccurate information provided by the loan forgiveness.
“I was held accountable, but there was no accountability elsewhere,” said plaintiff Gloria Nolan, who works at an education-related nonprofit in Missouri.
She said she was a first generation college student and that she thought she could achieve the American Dream if she pulled herself out of her boots: “This process,” she said, “is to put these on. boots in cement. ”
The department has also been challenged for its management of the Teacher Training Aid for college and higher education, or the TEACH grant, which aims to give teachers in high need areas an annual grant of 4,000. $ if they teach in a high needs school. for at least four years. NPR had discovered that due to paperwork errors, thousands of teachers were unfairly forced to repay grant money in the form of loans.
The department has since announced that it will write off debt for eligible teachers and, by May, had canceled loans of around 2,300 teachers.. (At least 6,000 teachers have requested relief.)
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