In partnership with California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the Campaign for California Borrowers’ Rights launched a “California Student Debt Challenge” on Monday, a statewide information campaign on the cancellation of student loans.
Some one million Californians in the public service sphere are eligible for loan forgiveness, but only 10,000 have received it since 2007, according to state data. Local leaders want to make sure that as many residents as possible get the help they are entitled to.
Teachers, firefighters, non-profit employees, civil servants, and anyone working in the public service are eligible for loan forgiveness after 10 years on the job, through the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. But it’s a largely misunderstood program, despite its potential to provide tens of thousands of dollars in aid to those repaying their debts.
For a limited time, the federal government is allowing eligible workers to recover funds from past repayment periods they missed, which for some could significantly reduce or completely wipe out their loans. But borrowers must apply by October 31 to receive these past credits.
“October 31 is the key day to get those past credits. That’s a little less, I understand, than three months to put you on a path to low or no student debt,” the California governor said, Gavin Newsom, at Monday’s press conference. “California, we’re making big changes across the board, not just to promote this program, but to make college more affordable.”
Bonta and a coalition of students, higher education advocates and borrower protection organizations are calling on government and nonprofit employers to “rise to the challenge” of informing their employees of these benefits and signing application forms, which will cost them nothing.
“We must ensure that every public sector employee – from teachers to firefighters, non-profit administrators and state employees – is aware of the public service loan forgiveness period before its closure on October 31, before difficult hurdles are overcome,” Bonta said.
Bonta said the program began in 2007 as an alternative for residents who are turning to private practice instead of public service careers due to high loan repayments. That promise of relief never came after the Trump administration rejected 99% of loan cancellation requests in the first round, he said.
Bonta’s office previously sued former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration, Congress took action, and his team ultimately “won the fight,” he said.
“But our battle, of course, continues,” he said. “The Biden administration has waived major demands on officials to have their federal student loan debt wiped out, but here’s the rub – you need to act, and you need to act now. As I urged the Department of Education to extend the deadline and push for further fixes to the program, this waiver period is currently limited and the deadline is fast approaching.”
State Senator Monique Limón hopes to shed some light on the growing problem of student loans facing graduates looking for jobs. She is the author of Senate Resolution 96, a bill pending approval to recognize August as Student Loan Debt Awareness Month. Students should be able to pursue jobs that are meaningful to them, she said.
“It is unacceptable that this debt disproportionately affects women and people of color. In an economy where higher education is a prerequisite for many jobs, we cannot allow our dreams to be stifled by debt” , said Limon.
Public service employers across the country are struggling to add and retain workers in this job market, and student debt relief is one way to keep people in the industry, said Ashley Harrington from the Federal Student Aid Office of the Department of Education.
“Advertising this program, talking about the benefits and making sure people know about this program which has a clear path to loan forgiveness is really important. We are committed to ensuring that every eligible public servant receives the credit that he won,” Harrington said.
In the Bay Area, residents owed nearly $26.6 billion in student debt, according to a 2018 analysis from the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office. San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros said this waiver program provides a critical opportunity to ease an enormous burden that weighs heavily on many families.
“I urge all eligible employers in our state to take similar steps to share this important opportunity with your employees. With the deadline fast approaching, now is the time for your employees to apply and take advantage of this program,” Cisneros said in a statement. “Please pledge to participate in the California Student Debt Challenge, and work together to bring this relief to as many of our employees as possible.”
Employers and employees can learn more about the Debt Cancellation Program at studentaid.gov.