April 17, 2019

Warren, Kaine, Colleagues Urge Congressional Negotiators to Ensure Education Department Faithfully Implements Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The Education Department's Unnecessary Bureaucratic Hurdles Have Led to 96% Denial Rate for TEPSLF

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) led 14 of their Senate colleagues in writing to Senate Appropriators to urge them to include language in the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) appropriations bill for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education to ensure that the Department of Education is faithfully implementing the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program.  The senators' letter follows recently-released data showing a more than 96 percent denial rate for TEPSLF.

Congress established the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program to provide student relief and encourage public service. The program allows eligible student loan borrowers -- including teachers, nurses, social workers, and military personnel -- to eliminate their student debt after making 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full time in a federal, state, local, or tribal government organization or an eligible nonprofit organization. However, due to inconsistent, unclear, and sometimes incorrect guidance from loan servicers, many borrowers have been unable to properly enroll and therefore did not qualify for loan forgiveness through the PSLF program.

In response to constituent concerns about misinformation and confusion around the complex PSLF requirements, Congress -- following successful advocacy by Senators Kaine and Warren during the two-year budget negotiations -- established TEPSLF, providing $700 million for Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 to allow public service borrowers who enrolled in the wrong repayment to be eligible for forgiveness. In addition to TEPSLF, Congress appropriated $4.6 million total in FY18 and FY19 for the Department of Education to conduct outreach to improve borrowers' knowledge of the PSLF and TEPSLF programs.

In their letter, the senators expressed concern with the Department of Education's "unnecessarily restrictive" approach to implementing TEPSLF, which has resulted in more than 96 percent of TEPSLF applications being denied and only 262 borrowers receiving a combined $10.6 million of the total $700 million Congress appropriated for TEPSLF.

"Under TEPSLF, Congress required the Department to make available 'a simple method for borrowers to apply for loan cancellation,'" the senators wrote in their letter. "Unfortunately, the Department has created unnecessary hurdles to determining borrowers' eligibility for TEPSLF and is therefore out of compliance with this directive."

The senators requested that Senate Appropriators include provisions in the Fiscal Year 2020 Department of Education appropriations bill to remove the bureaucratic hurdles the Department of Education has created to accessing TEPSLF and require the Department to improve outreach to borrowers who have been denied TEPSLF and PSLF.  The senators also urged the Committee to expand access and funding for TEPSLF so that the program may also cover borrowers with Federal Family Education Loans. 

"Given the dedication of our nation's public servants, it is imperative that they receive the forgiveness they earned," the senators continued.

Joining Senators Warren and Kaine in sending the letter were Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Last week, Senator Warren joined Senators Kaine, Gillibrand, and 12 other senators in introducing the What You Can Do For Your Country Act of 2019, new legislation that would overhaul the flawed PSLF program and ensure millions of teachers, social workers, members of the military, first responders, nurses, public defenders, and many other public service professionals will qualify for the loan forgiveness they have earned.  Earlier this month, Senator Warren led her colleagues in writing to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Kathy Kraninger requesting further information on the CFPB's oversight of the student loan industry, and, specifically, the activity of student loan companies and servicers involved in the administration of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.