PORTLAND — An overhaul of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program could bring relief to more than 550,000 student-loan borrowers nationwide who work in government or nonprofits.

The program aims to provide student-debt relief once a government or nonprofit employee has worked and made monthly payments for 10 years, but many borrowers report finding the process difficult to navigate.

Dr. Jessica Saint-Paul, who works at a health-care nonprofit, found out while she had been working toward forgiveness, she discovered her payment plan did not qualify for assistance.

“After 10 years, that’s when I found out, ‘Oh, you’re in the wrong loan, and you’re not in a payment program, so you’re going to have to start over from scratch,’” Saint-Paul recounted. “So there was no difference between me and a borrower who is starting for the very first time repaying their loans starting at zero.”

Among Oregon graduates, 54% had student loan debt in 2019. The changes announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Education include a waiver to make all federal loan repayments qualify towards forgiveness, even ones not previously eligible. In addition, the new plan commits to helping active-duty service members access the program.

Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon’s Attorney General, is among 22 AGs across the country who called on the Department of Education to take steps to fix what they called the “broken” forgiveness program, noting the department had rejected 96% of applications.

Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, said they are ready to turn that around.

“You’ve done so much to help our community, and it’s our turn to serve you,” Cardona pledged. “You were made a promise, and it’s now our turn to deliver on that promise.”

The average amount borrowers in Oregon owe is more than $27,000. Groups advocating for student debt relief say fixes are long overdue, but also hope to see more measures to cut down on student loan debt for folks who may not be in the government or nonprofit sectors.

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