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When Paying It Forward Does Not Pay Back

Both of my parents are retired civil servants. Following their example, I grew up wanting to be a civil servant in order to serve my community. Upon graduation from graduate school I became a civil servant for my first job. Prior to that I had internships and summer jobs for government organizations. Needless to say, civil service is, both, in my blood and what I have been groomed to do. Civil service is what I hope to do for the rest of my career.

Unfortunately, civil service is under attack by the Trump administration, specifically in regards to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program[i]. For millions of students and graduates, PSLF offers the opportunity for working people to payoff their loans in manageable monthly payments; and, after 10 years of consecutive payments and public (or non-profit) work the loans are forgiven. PSLF is the alternative for people unable to do Peace Corps, Teach for America, or the military due. Furthermore, taking a substantially low paying job or doing volunteer work like Peace Corps or Teach for America is not feasible for low income students. I have always known that PSLF would be how I would eventually rid myself of my $135,000+ in student loan debt. PSLF has also been particularly advantageous to minority students and graduates.

PSLF is under siege which places the financial futures of millions of Americans (including myself) in peril. The Trump administration has proposed cuts to the Department of Education budget each year, and included in those cuts is the elimination of the PSLF[ii]. Last year, the Higher Education Act (HEA) expired which ensures university research funding and individual student aid resources. In the House Education & Workforce Committee, Republicans have proposed a reauthorization bill that would substantially cut university research and individual student aid resources as well as eliminate the PSLF[iii]. It is unclear if either proposal will grandfather in existing participants.

PSLF is NOT a perfect program — the application and annual re-application process are tedious and slow, it is unclear what truly qualifies under the non-profit label, there are too many contracted vendors that operate the program for ED, you have to make 120 consecutive payments during the 10 years to receive the loan forgiveness, and many other quirks[iv]. Nonetheless, PSLF is an opportunity to help one’s community as well as find eventual financial debt relief that prohibits us from access forms of wealth and equity (homeownership, credit, owning a car, etc.). For some, PSLF is a critical factor for low-income, first generation, and minority students to even go to college, let alone go into public service. The promise of getting a “good job” that can then be used to lift students and their families out of poverty is often times the only validation in the decision-making process of whether to go to school or not and PSLF has a lot to do with that.

Regardless, PSLF is a vital resource that will only grow in importance as more college graduates have 5- & 6-digit student loan figures. I have over $135,000+ and at some point I would like to attend education or law school. I gave up the idea of stressing over repayment because under PSLF I was able to lower my monthly payments from $985 to $350. That is huge for me and I have had an above average median salary, but I know that the alternative without PSLF would be forbearances and finding loopholes to avoid paying them as long as possible. It will be imperative for schools, communities, businesses, and organizations to create or partner with existing loan assistance programs as part of benefits packages to entice millennials[v]. It is my hope that there is bipartisan support for a robust and sustainable PSLF for all because it is a little too late for us to teach in the inner city or spend 2 years overseas for free.

Cleveland | 30 | Seeking to make small change with my words and thoughts. More material available on The East by West

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