12/21/2018

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

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The AFT and the Student Borrower Protection Center have launched a joint investigation into rampant mismanagement and abuses in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. It is the first comprehensive effort to obtain documents, communications, data and records from the government agencies and student loan companies responsible for America's $1.5 trillion student debt crisis.

Student debt = stress

The government’s PSLF program is meant to incentivize workers to use their time and talents for the public good. If you work in the public sector and make regular loan payments for 10 years, the government is supposed to forgive the rest of your federal student loan debt. But the program is failing: the Department of Education released updated data this week showing that only 206 borrowers have had their loans discharged under the program, while more than 32,000 borrowers had their applications denied. This comes on top of revelations earlier this year that of the 33 million student loan borrowers who may qualify for PSLF, only 900,000 borrowers have successfully certified that they work for a public service organization. Something has to change.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant, but Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education are refusing to open the blinds,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We launched this investigation because the public has a right to know how loan forgiveness, to which borrowers are entitled under the law, is systematically attacked and undermined. The secretary should be on the side of teachers, nurses and public employees who’ve dedicated their lives to helping others; instead, she’s doing the bidding of loan servicers like Navient who fleece borrowers to line their own pockets.”

The investigation will seek to uncover key documents, communications and other financial, contractual or regulatory relationships that have caused the breakdown in the student debt system—a breakdown that has cost teachers, nurses, first responders and other public workers the loan forgiveness they have earned through their service. Its goal is to enable law enforcement officials, lawmakers and litigants to seek justice for student loan borrowers sentenced to a lifetime of debt at the hands of a mismanaged program.

Student debt is a major burden

The PSLF program is just one way borrowers have been failed under the current system. The Trump administration has walked away from its legal obligation to protect all student loan borrowers, and borrowers continue to fall victim to predatory practices within a broken system. In a survey of AFT members, 97 percent said student debt increased stress in their lives. The vast majority—80 percent—said they had lost sleep over it. Nearly three-quarters—72 percent—said it strained family and household relationships. One-third said they had gone into default.

That’s why the AFT is fighting on behalf of its members struggling under the weight of student debt. In October, the AFT announced a new class-action lawsuit brought by members alleging student loan giant Navient misled borrowers about PSLF. And we recently filed a friend of the court brief in support of a case against Great Lakes, another predatory loan servicer.

“Hundreds of thousands of our members are being harmed by the current broken system,” says Weingarten, “and that’s why we have joined with the Student Borrower Protection Center to probe what the department knew and when they knew it. And it’s why we’re holding the industry to account by supporting our members who are suing Navient and filing briefs in court to help borrowers sue Great Lakes.”

If you have been denied under the PSLF program, we want to hear from you, email Communicator@AFT.org to share your story privately.