Prepared Remarks for American Federation of Teachers Press Announcement
October 3, 2018
Thank you very much. I am honored to be here today with Randi Weingarten as the American Federation of Teachers works to protect the more than 1.7 million teachers, nurses, and other public servants it represents.
And, this issue is personal to me — my mother was a teacher. Growing up, I saw first- hand the impact teachers have on the lives of individual children, and how their influence can impact families, communities, and beyond. I also witnessed the sacrifices teachers make — using their already-small paychecks to buy classroom supplies, working from the crack of dawn and staying up, after everyone else had gone to bed, to craft the perfect lesson plan. When they say “public service is a noble calling,” I canthink of no profession more deserving of the recognition than teachers. So, I would like to extend my personal thanks to Randi, and to AFT, for the critical, and often unheralded work you do every day to make our country a better place.
Until last month, I served as the nation’s top student loan official at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. During my time at the Bureau, we exposed widespread borrower harm in the student loan market — but perhaps one of our most important pieces of work was our June 2017 report detailing the many challenges public servants face navigating the minefield of servicing abuses and mismanagement of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
We had hoped that the report would serve as a wakeup call to industry and to the Department of Education, as we documented the myriad of ways public service workers were being harmed by poor and even predatory servicing practices:
- Borrowers who had been told that they had the right type of loan, but they did not.
- Borrowers who had been told they were in the right repayment plan, but they were not.
- Borrowers who had been told they were on the right track for PSLF, but they were not. In fact, they were back at square one.
And sadly, I could go on, and on, and on.
Everywhere you looked, public service workers — at every servicer, with every type of loan — were being denied this crucial protection.
That same month, we held a public hearing in North Carolina where we heard directly from AFT members about how servicing breakdowns related to PSLF were ruining their financial lives. Student loan borrowers told us how they loved giving back to their communities, and that the PSLF program was an integral part of their ability to continue their work in public service. These borrowers told us how the joy they took in their work was overshadowed by the anguish they felt as they sat around the kitchen table trying to make their budgets work. These borrowers recounted how they would look at that ten-year mark on the calendar and dream of the day when they would finally have the extra money to start saving for a down payment on a house, for retirement, or for theirown child’s education.
Then these borrowers talked about how, in an instant, all of these dreams were dashed by the lies told to them by their loan servicer. They shared heartbreaking stories of the financial sacrifices they made in service to their communities — sacrifices they willingly made with the promise of a light at the end of the tunnel — the day their student loans would be forgiven. But brazen, inexcusable servicing breakdowns left them still under a mound of debt, unable to put anything aside for their children or their family, but now with no end in sight.
The worst part is that these stories are not unique. From North Carolina to California, from Florida to New York — dedicated public servants are getting ripped off by companies that for too long have not been held to account for their actions.
That is what this lawsuit is about.
For years, people have been trying to sound the alarm about how teachers, nurses, and other public service workers are facing a financial train wreck because of student loan servicing breakdowns. Nearly every week now, we hear stories detailing how the unconscionable failures of the Department of Education, coupled with rampant illegal practices occurring at student loan companies all across this country, are ruiningpeople’s financial lives.
For too long, the student loan industry has not been held to account for its failures. And now, as Betsy DeVos spends her time obstructing law enforcement officials who stand up for student loan borrowers, and the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau spends its time rearranging its acronym — teachers and other public service workers throughout the country are getting hurt. Today is about getting them much needed justice.
We all know that Betsy DeVos and D.C. special interests will do everything they can to fight this case so they may continue to operate in the shadows. But student loan borrowers deserve better. Dedicated public servants deserve better.
That is why I’m proud to stand with Randi Weingarten and the rest of AFT — because we can and must do better.