WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is urging the Department of Education and the Department of Labor to ensure that public-service employers notify new hires that they are eligible for student-loan advantages and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Schumer cited a recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study that revealed that about 33 million Americans are eligible to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program because they are in professions like teaching, law enforcement, firefighting, nursing and the military.
Schumer said program benefits are significant.
First, qualified employees in the field can reduce their monthly student loan payment to 15 percent of their discretionary income.
Also, after 10 years of payments, qualifying student loans will be completely forgiven.
But far too many don’t know they qualify, Schumer said, and miss out on tens of thousands in savings.
For example, he explained, of the 1.6 million eligible for the Pay as You Earn Program — a federal, income-based repayment plan for loans in place since 2011 — a mere 40,000 consumers are enrolled nationwide.
Schumer said the federal government must do more to require employers in the public-service sector to notify employees of this benefit, which not only helps reduce student loan debt in the United States “but rewards individuals and encourages them for working in these critical but lower-paying jobs.”
He outlined a “tool kit” that the Department of Education and Department of Labor could provide to employers and suggested that the form to enroll employees in the student-loan forgiveness program be included in existing federal benefit packages provided to new hires.
“Total student loan debt is now over a trillion dollars: It’s a staggering figure that reminds us that too often our students are graduating with a huge weight on their backs,” he said in a statement.
“Often, this results in our best and brightest bypassing public-service jobs that are meaningful and critical to our society because they are lower paying.
“Or, equally troubling, our recent grads choose public service but don’t get the financial assistance on their student loans that they deserve because they don’t know they qualify.
“That’s why I’m asking the departments of education and labor to work together with public-sector employers to do a better job of informing new hires of these benefits, which will allow teachers, firefighters, cops, nurses and more to save a little more each month and even have their loans completely forgiven.”
Congress enacted the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, defining eligibility as one who is employed with a federal, state or local government agency, entity or organization or a nonprofit that has been designated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, which includes government, public education, nonprofits, public health care, military personnel and law enforcement, among others.
In the North Country, there are 60,745 public-health employees, 3,018 public-education employees and 50,609 government employees, according to Schumer’s office.