Student Debt Resource

Important Questions to Ask About Any LRAP 

/ Student Debt E-book

Not all Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) are alike. Some LRAP programs have different requirements, restrictions, and benefits. Some things to consider are varying payment amounts and duration of eligibility, whether you’ll be able to benefit from more than one LRAP at the same time, and whether your LRAP money is taxable.  

Equal Justice Works has compiled some important questions you should ask about any LRAP program that you are considering: 

The LRAP Basics 
How much assistance does the program provide?

You’ll want to know how much the program’s payments are and whether these are disbursed on a monthly or annual basis. 

Is there a cap on total assistance?

You’ll want to know whether your eligibility will end once you’ve received a certain amount in payments. 

How are other LRAP benefits considered?

You will need to know whether you will be able to take advantage of other available LRAPs that are offered from the government, your employer, or your school. If so, will the amount you receive affect your ability to qualify for assistance from this program? Will it affect the amount you receive through this program? 

How is the LRAP funded?

You will need to know if there a sole funder, or do funds come from the institution’s general fund. Also find out if you are able to rely on the availability of funds in the future. 

Is the LRAP structured as a forgivable loan or as a grant?

The answer to this question may determine whether your LRAP is taxable. Grants may be taxable, while forgivable loans may be structured in a way that they are not taxable income. An Official Revenue Ruling states that most law school-based loan forgiveness programs meet the requirement of 108(f) and will not be taxed. 

LRAP Requirements 
Which student loans are eligible?

Find out if the LRAP covers loans from undergraduate, graduate, and/or professional studies. It’s also important to know if the LRAP will cover graduate studies outside the degree received from that school, and/or whether it will require studies not required for that employment. Learn also if you’ll be able to use the LRAP to pay down private as well as government loans. 

What service obligation(s) do I have, and for how long?

You will want to know if there is an employment requirement, and if you must work for a certain number of years to qualify? 

Is there a limit on how long I can participate?

There are two components to this query: First, are you eligible only for a certain number of years after graduation? Second, will you no longer be eligible after you’ve participated and received assistance for a certain number of years? 

LRAP Employment 
What employment qualifies?

For example, must you be working in the public interest? Does the program define “public interest?” 

Must I have a specialized license?

You will need to find out if the program requires you to have passed an exam or received specific certification. For example, for a law school LRAP, must you have passed the bar exam, and do you need to be in employment that requires a law license or degree? 

Must I be practicing in a certain profession?

Make sure to find out if the program requires you to be employed in a certain type of position; you may or may not have to be practicing law to be eligible. 

LRAP Income 
Is there an income cap and what is it?

Will you no longer be eligible if your salary increases? 

How is “income” calculated?

For example, will the program count your spouse’s income? Will it count any inheritance or assets against your income? 

Additional Questions to Ask About State-Based LRAPs 

When researching state-based LRAPs, you’ll want to ask a few more specific questions: 

Is there a program where I can work within my profession?

This should be the first question you ask! Many states and professional associations offer LRAPs, and some municipalities are beginning to offer LRAPs.
Lawyers: check the ABA’s list to see if there is a program where you want to practice. 

What types of employment are covered?

Depending on your field, the definition for employment may vary. For example, for lawyers, most states include civil legal aid, and some include public defense, prosecution and/or other government and nonprofit legal organization work. If you are a practicing lawyers, check the ABA’s information on eligible employment to see if you qualify for your state’s LRAP. 

Must I live in the state?

States typically require you to be working within the state to qualify for a state-based LRAP. You’ll want to also find out if you must live in the state as well. 

Are graduates of state schools given preference?

You’ll need to find out whether there is a preference in assistance, especially if there are limited funds available. 

The Federal John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program 

The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program (JRJ) was established by the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act of 2008, and provides loan repayment assistance for local, state, and federal public defenders, as well as local and state prosecutors who agree to remain employed as public defenders and prosecutors for at least three years. 

JRJ funds are allocated annually from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and are awarded and administered by designated state agencies. Repayment and awarded benefits cannot exceed $10,000 in any calendar year, or an aggregate total of $60,000 per attorney. Additionally, each state must allocate grants equally between prosecutors and public defenders, giving priority to those eligible beneficiaries who have the least ability to repay their loans. Click here to learn more. 

Limits on JRJ Funds 

While the program is allowed to provide individuals with up to $10,000 a year toward assistance with their student loan payments, there is rarely enough funding allocated toward this program to give participants this amount. This is particularly problematic for local and state public defenders and prosecutors, where states may only receive $30,000-$50,000 a year to fund the program. In fact, in 2016, the states each received an average of $38,500. As a result of such limited funding, the following states no longer participate in the John R. Justice program: Alaska, DC, Montana, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas.  

Eligible Attorneys  

As stated earlier, JRJ is open to state and federal public defenders, and state prosecutors who agree to remain employed as public defenders and prosecutors for at least three years. In addition, all eligible attorneys must maintain a license to practice law. 

The following definitions apply to eligible attorneys: 

  • Prosecutors are full-time employees of a state or unit of local government (including tribal government), who prosecute criminal or juvenile delinquency cases at the state or unit of local government level. 
  • Public defenders are either full-time employees of a unit of state or local government (including tribal government), or full-time employees of a nonprofit organization operating under a contract with a state or unit of local government, who provide legal representation to indigent persons in criminal or juvenile delinquency cases. 
  • Full-time federal defender attorneys are attorneys in a defender organization providing legal representation to indigent persons in criminal or juvenile delinquency cases, pursuant to subsection (g) of section 3006A of Title 18, United States Code. 
  • Attorneys providing supervision, education, or training of other persons providing prosecutor or public defender representation also are eligible. 

The following attorneys are not eligible for JRJ grants: 

  • Prosecutors who are employees of the federal government are not eligible. 
  • Attorneys who are in private practice (and not a full-time employee of a nonprofit organization) are not eligible, even if providing public defense services under contract to the state. 
  • An attorney must not be in default on repayment of any federal student loans. 
Applying for John R. Justice funds 

When applying for John R. Justice (JRJ) funds, you must follow the procedure set forth by your designated state agency. You can find a list of designated state agencies on the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) website. 

If you receive a John R. Justice award, you will need to commit to and complete a three-year service requirement; you will also need to certify your continued employment as an eligible attorney.  

John R. Justice funds may only be used to repay certain loans 

Federal student loans (FFEL, Federal Direct, and Perkins Loans) are eligible for assistance; however, loans in default, Parent PLUS Loans, federal consolidation loans that repaid a Parent PLUS Loan, and private, commercial, or alternative student loans are not eligible. 

Taxability of John R. Justice loan forgiveness 

Funds received from the John R. Justice program is not taxable. This was confirmed in a letter published by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of the General Counsel in December of 2012. The letter can be accessed by clicking here. 

State-by-State Administration 

Governor-designated state agencies (or in the case of Washington, D.C., a mayor-designated agency) conduct outreach and education, solicit applications from eligible recipients, and administer the JRJ Program in each state. Each designated state agency is eligible to apply for funding to distribute equally between prosecutors and defenders within their state. 

Funding for the program has been steadily decreasing since 2012. In 2012, states were guaranteed to receive at least $100,000 for the program. This number dropped to $50,000 for 2013, and $30,000 for the year 2014 and beyond.  

Resources for Designated State Agencies 

The BJA issues Program Application Guidance for designated state agencies. Equal Justice Works, in consultation with the BJA, has developed a description of the grant application process, a sample of state JRJ program guidelines, and a sample application. These materials are designed to assist managers of the designated state agencies who have been charged with the responsibility of administering John R. Justice funds in their state. 

Employer-Based Assistance for Public Interest Lawyers 

Facts about Employer-Based LRAPs from the 2012 biennial NALP (The Association for Legal Career Professionals) Public Sector & Public Interest Attorney Report: 

  • 56 organizations reported having an LRAP program in 2010 (35 civil legal services organizations, four public defender offices, nine local prosecuting attorney offices, and eight additional public interest organizations). 
  • 465 attorneys were reported to have received an award in the most recent fiscal year. 
Legal Services Corporation’s Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program 

New attorneys (employed by a Legal Services Corporation (LSC) organization for less than five years, at the time of application) receive forgivable loans of up to $5,600 per year, for up to three years (dependent upon continuing eligibility and funding). Attorneys must not have a salary of more than $62,500 ($78,125 in Alaska and $71,875 in Hawaii,) and they must have more than $75,000 in law school loans. LSC funds must be used to pay qualifying law school loans, and participating attorneys are expected to remain with an LSC-funded legal services program for three years. Loans forgiven under this LRAP are not taxable.  

For 2020, 223 legal aid attorneys (including first-time and returning applicants) to assist them with student loan debt 

More information can be found on the program’s information page or by contacting [email protected].