Labor Unions Representing More than 7.5 Million Workers Launch National Campaign to Reach Borrowers as SBPC Calls On Biden to Extend “PSLF Waiver”
*Note: all data included below are the most recently available as of June 9, 2022. See the footnote to the map for additional detail.
June 9, 2022 | Washington, D.C. — The Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) today released a new estimate that over 9 million public service workers with federal student loans are eligible to pursue debt cancellation through the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, even as fewer than 150,000 have had debts cancelled under the recently overhauled federal program. To ensure every eligible public service worker receives debt relief guaranteed under federal law, a coalition of international labor unions representing more than 7.5 million workers joined with SBPC to launch a new national campaign to reach public service workers with student debt.
“After 15 years, we finally have the data to help us better target the public service workers who need help the most,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “At AFT, we have worked tirelessly to deliver on the promise of PSLF debt cancellation, and we are ready to make these new resources available to our over 1.7 million members across the country. The relief our members are feeling is palpable. This is not the time to cut corners in getting that relief to as many people as possible, which is why President Biden must extend the limited PSLF waiver and support us in helping our members access PSLF.
“The Limited PSLF Waiver marks a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our educators to access student debt cancellation,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “However, its rollout was fast, and by the time public servants figured out the new temporary rules, the program was halfway done. Now we know the rules, and with these new tools by the Student Borrower Protection Center, we can figure out where to focus our outreach and education efforts. Educators and public service workers need more time to get forgiveness they deserve.”
“Public service workers devote their lives and careers to keeping our communities safe, healthy and strong,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “But many of their jobs require a college or even an advanced degree, which has plunged many public service workers into debt. You don’t get into public service to get rich, and those who step up and put their communities first should not be locked into a never-ending spiral of student loan debt. We owe it to these everyday heroes to ensure that every eligible borrower gets access to the relief they have earned for their service to our communities. AFSCME is proud to partner with SBPC and our allies in the labor movement to raise awareness and advocate for increased relief for working people.”
“These men and women are magnanimous in spirit, civically dedicated and incredibly hard-working on behalf of the public,” said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien. “Rank-and-file Teamsters who are the fabric of our social safety net shouldn’t be burdened by debt, and it’s an honor to help them get it forgiven so they can move on to the next chapters of their lives.”
Mapping Progress Toward Debt Relief
For more than 14 years, the federal government has advertised public service workers’ right to debt relief under PSLF, but very few public service workers have been able to benefit. According to one government estimate, as many as 1-in-4 U.S. workers are potentially eligible. Based on a new analysis, SBPC launched an interactive map, including new state-by-state projections of the number of borrowers who are eligible for debt cancellation, who are on track to achieve debt cancellation, and who have already received debt cancellation.
For the first time, this dynamic tool provides policymakers and advocates with an estimate of the number of PSLF-eligible borrowers in each state and with a benchmark for the work that must be done to help these borrowers reach debt cancellation. Based on the SBPC’s analysis, fewer than 15 percent of the over 9 million public service workers with student loan debt have filed paperwork to track their progress toward debt cancellation under PSLF, and to date the program has resulted in the cancellation of only 130,730 borrowers’ debts, or less than 2 percent of the estimated eligible population.
A National Campaign to Cancel Student Debt for Public Service Workers
To ensure the remaining 98 percent of public service workers with federal student loan debt benefit from PSLF—and benefit from the current waiver of certain PSLF requirements meant to improve access but are currently set to expire after October 31, 2022—AAUP, AFSCME, AFT, NEA, and the Teamsters today joined SBPC to launch a campaign to drive enrollment and that employers can use to gauge their population’s eligibility.
As part of this initiative, the campaign partners launched a new online resource to guide borrowers through the steps they must take to access PSLF. The website, ForgiveMyStudentDebt.org, includes tutorial videos, is regularly revised, and is free and available to all borrowers.
Although today’s analysis provides a clear and numerical goal for what success in the PSLF program looks like, the goal is ambitious. Approximately 7.7 million PSLF-eligible public service workers with no PSLF paperwork on file with the Department of Education (ED) must certify their employment and consolidate their loans, if necessary, before the limited PSLF waiver period ends after October 31, 2022.
“The Biden Administration is delivering a debt free future for public service workers across the country, but we’ve only scratched the surface,” said SBPC executive director Mike Pierce. “Secretary Cardona needs to recognize that you can’t have too much of a good thing—extend the waiver now and deliver debt relief for millions in the future.”
Background on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
Congress created PSLF in 2007 to provide public service workers with student loan debt relief in exchange for a decade of service in their communities. However, as evidenced by countless borrower stories and investigations, the promises of the PSLF program are not the reality for millions of public servants. An unfortunate track record of bad industry practices and ambivalence by ED led PSLF to have a 98 percent rejection rate—and to the expansion meant to fix PSLF having a 97 percent denial rate. Underlying these statistics, millions of teachers, nurses, and service members who planned their lives around the promise of eventual loan forgiveness have been cheated out of their rights.
On October 7, 2021, ED announced that it would use authority under the HEROES Act of 2003 to temporarily waive certain of the regular PSLF program requirements. Specifically, borrowers would receive credit toward loan cancellation under PSFL no matter what type of loan they had or regardless of whether they had been enrolled in the specific repayment plans generally required for PSLF. This limited PSLF waiver is set to expire after October 31, 2022, just one year after the initial announcement, by which point borrowers must take affirmative steps to benefit from the relaxed rules and claim credit toward PSLF.
About Student Borrower Protection Center
The Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) is a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. The SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students.