Attorney General Kwame Raoul today joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general to file with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in support of public servants who were promised federal student loan debt forgiveness in exchange for 10 years of public service, but who, after serving that time, have been denied debt relief due to the U.S. Department of Education’s mismanagement of the program.
According to public servant borrowers and federal government reports, the U.S. Department of Education has committed pervasive errors in administering the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. As a result, less than one percent of all applicants have received relief. In the brief, Raoul stressed the importance of the PSLF program and asked the court to closely review borrowers’ specific allegations.
“Thousands of students were promised relief from their loans after 10 years of public service,” Raoul said. “I am committed to ensuring that the federal government keeps its promise and forgives outstanding loan balances for those who have completed the program requirements.”
The PSLF program allows borrowers who pay down their loans while working for 10 years in a qualifying public service job, such as teachers, law enforcement officers, and members of the military, to have the remainder of their federal direct student loans forgiven. This program gives public servants who may not have higher salaries the opportunity to pay off their student debt. According to Department of Education reports, more than 1 million Americans intend to apply for PSLF. Nearly two-thirds of these people have annual salaries of less than $50,000.
Despite the opportunity for the PLSF program to help alleviate the student loan debt of those who have committed a large portion of their career to public service, the Department of Education has denied relief to more than 99 percent of applicants. The first PSLF borrowers became eligible for forgiveness in October 2017. Since then, 90,962 people have applied for loan discharge pursuant to PSLF, but only 845 people have received it.
Federal government reports admit that the Department of Education made pervasive errors, including mistakes in recordkeeping, providing inaccurate information to borrowers, steering borrowers to take actions that made them ineligible, and failing to explain why applications were denied. In Weingarten v. DeVos, a lawsuit filed earlier this year by teachers, student borrowers claim that these types of errors led the department to deny their PSLF applications. In the brief, Raoul asks the court to thoroughly review these borrowers’ claims to determine whether they should have the opportunity to prove their case.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office long has been a national leader in investigating and enforcing consumer protection violations in the higher education field. In 2019, Raoul oversaw the rollout of the state’s first Student Loan Ombudsman, a position created by the Student Loan Servicing Rights Act, to provide resources for student borrowers who struggle to make student loan payments. The Student Loan Ombudsman is conducting a series of PSLF outreach presentations, educating student loan borrowers working in public service about the problems with the program and how to avoid them.
Student borrowers who have been denied for PSLF, have concerns about their progress towards PSLF forgiveness, have questions or are in need of assistance can call the Attorney General’s Student Loan Helpline at 1-800-455-2456 or can file a complaint on the Attorney General’s website.
Joining Raoul in filing the brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.