Equal Justice Works is a leading member of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Coalition, committed to supporting PSLF
Washington, D.C., January 5, 2022—Equal Justice Works, the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, today announced it will host a monthly webinar series as part of the PSLF Coalition to share information about earning Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and the Department of Education’s Temporary Waiver. A panel of experts from Equal Justice Works and the PSLF Coalition will guide the conversations and answer questions from borrowers enrolled in the PSLF program.
PSLF is the only educational debt program specifically targeted at public service professionals, designed to make a career in public service possible. This fall, the Department of Education announced an overhaul of the PSLF program, implementing a limited waiver that will enable over 550,000 borrowers to get credit for additional loan repayments and enable approximately 22,000 borrowers to obtain complete loan forgiveness up until Oct. 31, 2022.
“Public service professionals are the backbone of our society. For those individuals who continued their education in pursuit of a career in public health, public education, and public safety, PSLF is a critical program to attract and retain professionals where they’re needed most.” said Aoife Delargy Lowe, Vice President of Law School Engagement & Advocacy at Equal Justice Works. “With the Department of Education’s overhaul underway, our focus now is to ensure that eligible public service professionals are aware of the October deadline and know how to take the necessary steps to earn and receive the educational debt forgiveness they are owed.”
The PSLF Coalition is made up of over 90 nonprofit and public service organizations committed to supporting PSLF. Together, the Coalition members work to ensure that lawmakers know how important PSLF is to the people who work in public safety, education, and health in communities across the United States.
Webinars will take place on the first Wednesday of every month at 12 p.m. ET. The first webinar of 2022 will take place today. To register for today’s webinar and stay informed on the status of PSLF, visit pslfcoalition.org/temporary-waiver.
About Equal Justice Works
Equal Justice Works is the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law. We bring together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, legal services organizations, and supporters to promote a lifelong commitment to public service and equal justice. Following their Fellowships, more than 85% of our Fellows remain in public service positions, continuing to pursue equal justice for underserved communities across the country.
About PSLF Coalition
The PSLF Coalition consists of over 90 organizations committed to supporting Public Service Loan Forgiveness. PSLF is the only educational debt program specifically targeted at public service professionals. For those with the passion and qualifying education, but also educational debt, PSLF makes a career in public service possible.
In the face of COVID-19, we recognize that many who are on the frontlines fighting to protect and support our communities are our public service professionals: those working in public health, public safety, and public education. These public service professionals include first responders, nurses, and doctors, who are all putting their lives on the line to care for us. Teachers who are working to ensure that learning can continue and school counselors who are finding new ways to connect with and support students. As well as social workers, firefighters, and legal aid lawyers who are supporting the safety and wellbeing of communities.
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The following letter was sent from David Stern, Equal Justice Works Executive Director, to the Equal Justice Community in response to the Department of Education’s recent announcement to overhaul the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Dear Equal Justice Works Community,
Yesterday was a historic day for our public service professionals, including public interest lawyers, relying on educational debt relief through Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Educational debt is an obstacle that prevents many graduates from taking relatively low-paying public service jobs and staying in them, and Equal Justice Works has been working to address this issue since this organization was founded 35 years ago. The promise of PSLF is that a borrower can earn forgiveness following 10 years of full-time public service and on time loan payments. PSLF ensures that our nation can attract and retain qualified and passionate professionals in public health, public education, and public safety jobs that are critical to the wellbeing of our communities and country.
At last, we are seeing real and positive change from our advocacy and are thrilled that the Department of Education announced major changes to PSLF both to improve the program going forward and address the problems of the past.
The Department of Education announced that it will offer a time-limited waiver so that student borrowers can count payments from all federal loan programs or repayment plans toward forgiveness. This includes loan types and payment plans that were not previously eligible. The department promised to also pursue opportunities to automate PSLF eligibility, give borrowers a way to get errors corrected, and make it easier for members of the military to get credit toward forgiveness while they serve. These changes will be paired with an expanded communications campaign to ensure affected borrowers learn about these opportunities and encourage them to apply.
Up until this point, the Department of Education has rejected 98% of applicants for forgiveness. Teachers, nurses, social workers, public service lawyers, doctors, and many others have relied on this program and then told that they did not have the right loans or the amounts paid were not exactly right (sometimes off by a penny), and many would have to start all over again. That is why this news is a huge victory for public service workers everywhere.
For those of you in the law school community, I urge you to share this news with your current law students, recent graduates, and alumni to ensure that those who might be eligible for this waiver enroll by October 31, 2022.
Read the Department of Education’s press release about the PSLF program overhaul here
Full Audit of PSLF Program Needed to Ensure Justice for Workers Denied Promised Relief
WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 12, 2021—Today, 97 student, consumer, public interest, civil rights, higher education, public health, workforce, professional, military, and faith organizations representing millions of public service workers and student loan borrowers sent a letter to United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona calling on the Department of Education (ED) to conduct an immediate 90 day review of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and cancel the student loan debt of all public service workers who have completed ten or more years of service. The letter urges ED to use the full scope of its legal authority, including emergency powers vested in the Secretary of Education as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to quickly deliver on promised relief.
Since the first applicants became eligible to have their debts cancelled under PSLF in 2017, 98% have been rejected. Evidence now shows these rejections were driven by widespread mismanagement by ED and abuses by its contracted student loan servicers. Despite reassurances that the rates of debt cancellation via PSLF would improve over time, widespread denials without explanation have continued. For nearly four years, no comprehensive efforts have been made to address the underlying problems driving this systemic failure. As public service workers continue to serve and risk their lives on the front lines of America’s pandemic response, the case for immediate action has grown increasingly urgent. Without immediate action by Secretary Cardona, millions of public service workers, including student loan borrowers in public and nonprofit sectors and those serving in the military, will remain trapped in this broken system.
Read the letter here.
“Washington broke its promise to a generation of public service workers with far reaching consequences for workers, their communities, and our country,” said Seth Frotman, executive director at the Student Borrower Protection Center. “Teachers, healthcare providers, and millions of others who served on the front lines of America’s pandemic response deserve better than more red tape and bureaucracy–they need Secretary Cardona to use his power under the law to deliver the relief promised by Congress more than a decade ago.”
Communities across our nation depend on passionate people who dedicate themselves to public service. Whether it be education, health, or safety, we know the sacrifice public service professionals make in order to serve others.
David Stern /
Equal Justice Works Executive Director
“Student loan debt is a huge barrier to taking relatively low paying public service jobs and PSLF promises forgiveness after 10 years of public service,” said David Stern, executive director at Equal Justice Works. “Hundreds of thousands of people relied on that program only to be rejected. At Equal Justice Works, we believe our country must deliver on its promise to forgive the debt of public servants after 10 years of service, sacrifice, and contributions.”
Today, the National Education Association (NEA) also released an updated letter to Secretary Cardona calling for the same set of actions and featuring additional signers, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Communications Workers of America, and District Council 37, New York’s largest public employee union. Two weeks ago, NEA and 14 other labor unions, representing 11 million public service workers, first called on Secretary Cardona to cancel student debt for all borrowers who served for a decade or more.
In 2006, Equal Justice Works, in partnership with the American Bar Association, and many other organizations across the nation joined together to advocate for federal loan repayment programs that would benefit public interest professionals. This effort led to the federal College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, which created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, as well as income-based repayment options for federal loans.
The PSLF program was created to provide relief to public service workers with student loan debt in exchange for a decade of service in their communities or to our country.
Unfortunately, since its inception, the program has been mishandled and undermined by the Department of Education and its contracted loan servicers, with only a small portion of eligible public service workers accessing their right to relief. Over the last two years, the Student Borrower Protection Center and the American Federation of Teachers conducted a comprehensive, top-to-bottom review of the PSLF program exposing a decade of widespread mismanagement and abuse that has delayed, derailed, or denied millions of public service workers access to their right to debt relief under the law.
In 2003, Congress passed Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (Heroes Act), vesting extraordinary emergency powers in the Secretary of Education to ensure that student loan borrowers are able to shoulder the burdens posed by student debt in the face of a national emergency. In 2020, President Trump and Secretary DeVos repeatedly invoked these emergency powers to pause student loan payments, waive interest charges, and cancel student debt for tens of millions of people.
In December 2020, the SBPC and Demos published a report featuring contributions from leading student loan experts and advocates outlining how the Biden administration could take immediate action to cancel student debt for millions of Americans. As part of this report, Mike Pierce, Policy Director at the SBPC and Rebecca Maurer, Counsel and Program Manager at the SBPC laid out how the Department of Education could use executive authority, including the Secretary’s emergency powers, to deliver justice for public service workers by cancelling student debt for all who have already served for a decade or more.
The Student Borrower Protection Center
The Student Borrower Protection Center 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.
Equal Justice Works
Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. As the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, Equal Justice Works brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, nonprofit legal aid organizations, and supporters to promote a lifelong commitment to public service and equal justice.
By April Giancola, Director of Public Interest Advising at University of North Carolina School of Law
Throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to work in the public sector—in indigent defense, civil legal services, and now law school counseling. In my current role, I draw upon my 16 years of public interest legal experience to advise law students and alumni. I’m at my professional best when I can support others to be their most successful selves.
Without the help of the Department of Education’s (DOE) Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, my career in the public sector would not have been possible. PSLF supports public service professionals who took out loans to support their education. The PSLF program was designed so that after ten years of monthly loan repayment and full-time public service, public service professionals would earn forgiveness on their remaining federal student debt.
In the fall of 2019, I received word from the DOE that my application for PSLF was approved. A weight I had been carrying since 1993, when I earned my undergraduate degree, was finally lifted.
I took four years off between college and law school. When I made the choice to pursue a legal education, I did so with purpose—I knew that I wanted to serve others. I did not necessarily know that my path would lead me to become a career development professional, and I’m grateful to still be in a position of service.
From 2007 to 2019, my life was filled with meticulous paper trails, lots of phone calls with my current loan service provider, and consistently sending in employer verification forms. At times it was frustrating; I found that I would have to talk to people who sometimes did not know anything about PSLF or how to answer my questions. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, and I would do it all over again.
PSLF must be sustained. I don’t know what I would have done without income-based repayment, and a light at the end of this very long tunnel. Having to pay more than $1,000 a month of education debt is demoralizing, if not impossible for many public service professionals. It certainly keeps out many smart, dedicated, and passionate students from pursuing careers in public interest—because they simply cannot take on the payments.
Without relief, high educational debt makes it nearly impossible to live a sustainable life. Public service professionals deliver critical health, education, and public safety services to those who need them the most, helping to uplift families across the nation. We must preserve PSLF for future generations of public service warriors.
Click here to learn more about how you can take action to preserve PSLF.
On Friday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced that the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program would be functionally eliminated under the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
Established in 2007, PSLF allows borrowers to earn forgiveness on eligible Federal Direct Loans after both working full-time in a qualifying public service position and also completing ten years of on-time monthly loan payments. The HEA reauthorization proposed by Congress eliminates the loans and payment plans that qualify for PSLF, and as a result, essentially ends this vital program for our public servants.
“Equal Justice Works strongly opposes any measure to eliminate PSLF,” said David Stern, Executive Director of Equal Justice Works. “As an organization, we are dedicated to creating pathways to public service. PSLF allows thousands of public servants – prosecutors, police officers, firefighters, teachers, health professionals –who sacrifice their earning potential in the private sector to help others and support our country’s wellbeing. Eliminating PSLF is misguided and will undoubtedly put the health, safety, and stability of our communities at risk.”
Each year, public sector employers report difficulty in recruiting and retaining talented staff, leaving many Americans without critically needed services. According to the Legal Services Corporation, as reported by The New York Times, 80 percent of the legal needs of the poor go unmet in this country. PSLF has made quality legal representation far more accessible to low-income people across the country. A 2015 study by National Legal Aid and Defender Association found that 70 percent of respondents across the U.S. indicated that PSLF is one of the reasons they could take or remain in their current public interest law position.
Equal Justice Works provides support to public interest lawyers and helps law students learn more about all aspects of managing their student debt.
PSLF is an investment in our communities that has made long-term public service careers financially feasible. It is a vital program that has helped to recruit and retain public interest lawyers who work day in and day out to help those who struggle to afford legal representation. Without this program, we are at serious risk of losing smart, passionate lawyers who want to serve the greater good.
Isaac Bowers /
Director of Law School Engagement & Advocacy, Equal Justice Works
The first class of borrowers are now eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Unfortunately, loan servicers, the Department of Education, FedLoan Servicing, and Congress have been attacking the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, causing more confusion about the application process and making it more and more difficult for borrowers to repay their student loans.
One great way to prevent confusion and prepare for forgiveness is to submit the Department of Education’s Employment Certification Form. Here’s five ways filling out this form will help you now and in the future:
1. It Helps You Track Your Payments
Without submitting an Employment Certification Form, it may be tough to track the necessary 120 overall qualifying payments you have to make. Your current loan servicer might say that you’ve made a certain number of payments, but only the Department of Education and FedLoan Servicing, the sole loan servicer for PSLF, can give you the number of payments that the Department has on file. This can prevent many issues around payments that can occur when applying for forgiveness.
2. You Can Better Track Your Employment over the Years
When you apply for forgiveness after 120 qualifying payments, you must show that you worked in qualifying employment over that time. Do you want to have to track down your previous employers, ask them to sign a form, and if they won’t, explain to the government why they won’t sign the form? I know I wouldn’t want to do that! It’s easier to submit an Employment Certification Form annually or whenever you switch jobs. This also has the added benefit of the government informing you if your employment qualifies. Be warned though: the Department of Education saying your employment is qualifying does not mean that determination is binding.
3. You’ll Be Prepared to Fill Out the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Application
If you’ve ever taken a look at the new Public Service Loan Forgiveness Application and the Employment Certification Form side-by-side, you’ll notice the forms look almost identical. By filling out the Employment Certification form frequently, you’ll have plenty of experience when getting ready to fill out the PSLF Application, and will better understand what FedLoan Servicing and the Department of Education are looking for on these forms.
4. FedLoan Servicing Becomes Your Loan Servicer (the Earlier the Better!)
Although there are many reported problems with FedLoanServicing, they are still the sole loan servicer for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Filing an Employment Certification Form early will switch you over to FedLoan Servicing, giving you the early experience of working with the servicer. If you know early on how to hold FedLoan Servicing accountable and how to respond if they say a payment is not qualifying, you will be in a better place than many people submitting the PSLF application after 120 qualifying payments.
With the White House wanting to cut the program completely, and Congress attempting to cripple the program, it is more important than ever that borrowers let the government know how important the program is to them. You can do this by calling your elected officials and telling them to join the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Caucus to protect PSLF for borrowers. But you can also do this by filing an employment certification form. The number of forms submitted each year is recorded by the government, and with over 650,000 borrowers having already submitted an employment certification form, submitting yours will show the government just how many people are relying on the program.
These are just a few ways that filling out the Employment Certification Form will help you on your path to earning Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Like most worthwhile policies, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) costs money. But in Jason Delisle’s recent article, The spiraling costs of a student loan relief program, he exaggerates the costs and never discusses the benefits of the program. As a result, the picture he paints is misleading.
Jason implies the cost of PSLF – a program that enables borrowers with student loans to earn forgiveness after making 120 on-time monthly payments while working full time in public service – is limitless by stating that the potential eligibility of the program is twenty-five percent of the workforce. This is pure hyperbole.
Only a small percentage of the workforce that is theoretically eligible for PSLF has student loans and will stay in public service jobs for the ten years necessary to earn forgiveness. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, over the ten years PSLF has been in existence, 550,000 borrowers have asked for and received approval that their jobs qualify. (You’ll note this is far below twenty-five percent of the workforce.) And less than half of those borrowers have made a payment that qualifies toward the 120 they need.
Jason also consistently fails to put the cost of PSLF in perspective. A study by Equal Justice Works indicates that the average graduate and professional student will repay almost the entire amount they borrowed before earning forgiveness. A small tweak to Jason’s handpicked example demonstrates why this is the case. According to the Department of Education’s repayment estimator, a borrower with $50,000 in loans (the same as Jason’s example) and $45,000 in salary ($5,000 more than Jason’s example) enrolled in Income-Based Repayment (an income-driven repayment plan in which they pay fifteen percent of their discretionary income) would repay $54,471 before earning forgiveness. In other words, this borrower would repay more than they borrowed and the forgiveness they earn for ten years of public service would be all accrued interest.
In addition, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the federal government will earn $184 billion from student loans made between 2013 and 2023. The amount invested in PSLF will be a small fraction of that. And that investment is a good one because – although you would not know this from reading Delisle’s article – PSLF is working exactly as intended to foster long-term public interest careers.
Delisle argues that PSLF and income-driven repayment plans are the same thing and therefore PSLF is unnecessary. But, as the bipartisan legislators knew when they separately created PSLF, this is far from the case. Income-driven repayment plans are a safety net for low-income borrowers who would otherwise be unable to repay their loans and would fall into (far more expensive and financially ruinous) default on their loans without their protection. They provide very long-term (twenty, twenty-five or even a proposed thirty year) taxable cancellation of those loans for those who are never financially able to repay their loans in full. They are a necessary safety net– but they are not an incentive for talented students with debt to enter into long-term public service.
PSLF allows talented young people who are willing to sacrifice their earning potential in the private sector to instead commit their careers to serving others in lower-paying public service jobs without having to spend a lifetime worrying about their student loans. It is an affordable and critical investment that directly benefits all our communities.
Graduating is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s a happy time for everyone, and it symbolizes a fresh start and the ability to go wherever your dreams and hard work can take you.
The down side? Most graduates only have a six-month grace period before they enter repayment of their dreaded student loans. This can put a serious damper on those big dreams of financial independence, especially if your dreams involve doing important public service or nonprofit work for a small salary. Don’t worry too much – there are steps you can take now to successfully manage high student debt on a low-income!
1. Apply for the best student loan repayment plan. For many recent graduates, that means signing up for one of the four income-driven repayment plans that reduce your monthly payment by tying it to your income and family size. Each plan is different, but generally payments made under one of these plans are only a small percentage of your discretionary income. Depending on the numbers, some borrowers have no monthly payments at all. If that sounds too good to be true, it’s because there’s a catch: your interest will continue to balloon, and you’ll still owe taxes on the remaining balance after 20 or 25 years. Check out our recent article on taxable forgiveness to learn more, and use the handy Repayment Estimator to help choose the right plan.
2. Be aware of employers’ Loan Repayment Assistance Programs. Many employers have much-needed programs called Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs), which help their employees pay back their student loans. LRAPs are usually structured as part of a benefits package. Some of these jobs design their LRAPs to help overcome the hurdle of lower public interest salaries. Other employers institute LRAPs to help attract more qualified staff. Either way, more and more companies are starting to take notice and offer assistance to borrowers. When applying for a postgraduate position, it’s always a good idea to ask potential employers if they have any LRAPs in place for employees.
3. Consider consolidating all of your student loans. Debt consolidation is completely free and easy to do. Instead of navigating a complex web of multiple payments and interest rates, a Direct Consolidation Loan will convert your multiple student loans into one – meaning you’ll only make one single monthly payment. If you have older loans, debt consolidation may also allow you to take advantage of newer programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and alternative repayment plans. However, if you have any borrower benefits on your older loans (like Perkins Loan Forgiveness, for instance) you’ll lose it once you consolidate. Think wisely about whether this is the right option for you!
4. Take advantage of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). A huge misconception about PSLF is that it’s a program you enroll in once graduating. The truth: you won’t apply for PSLF until after you’ve made at least 120 qualifying payments on your Federal Direct loans while working in a qualifying public service position. You’ll also make sure to certify your employment along the way. Sound confusing? Now is the perfect time to become knowledgeable about PSLF and what it takes to be eligible for 10-year forgiveness!
5. Budget, budget, budget. It may take some drastic budgeting, but it is possible to pay back your student loans and survive on a public service employee salary. As a recent graduate, it’s completely okay to move to a cheaper apartment, get a side job, or skip restaurants in favor of eating at home sometimes. You can also give up cable and use Netflix, Hulu, and HBOGo to watch your favorite shows – whatever works best for you!