Teachers, social workers, firefighters, members of the military, and other government and nonprofit workers are seeing their student debt wiped clean thanks to the Biden administration’s overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The program was supposed to make public service work more appealing by offering the promise that, after 10 years of payments, people’s student loans would be forgiven. Instead, virtually no one qualified—just over 16,000 people as of fall 2021. That has changed.
Around 70,000 public servants have now gotten nearly $5 billion in relief, and in the end, up to 550,000 of them could get help.
This change comes because, after years of rejections because people had been paying on loans from the wrong program, or had paid a little late or submitted payments that were off by as little as a few cents—rejections that often came after people had paid for 10 years in good faith, without being told they weren’t qualifying—the Department of Education put into place a temporary fix. It allows people to consolidate all of their loans into eligible ones and submit a form to get their payments to this point—including the ones that would have previously been considered ineligible—to count toward forgiveness.
That’s 70,000 people who, after years of working for the public good and faithfully paying their loans, have gotten relief. The joy is palpable when people post about it on social media—but also the surprise that the system is now working on this front.
And people aren’t just getting debts wiped clear:
These reactions are thrilling to see, but also testimony to the burden people are struggling with. Similarly, what the Biden administration has done so far shows the vastness of the problem: Under Biden, the Department of Education has forgiven around $15 billion in debt for 675,000 borrowers, not just through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program but through forgiveness for people who were scammed by for-profit colleges and people with total and permanent disabilities. $15 billion and 675,000 people are big numbers when you look at them, but tiny ones in the context of the more than 43 million people with more than $1.5 trillion in student debt.
This debt is shaping people’s lives, constraining their choices—like whether to buy a house or even have children—and it shouldn’t be like this. President Joe Biden should be able to see, from the current round of relief for public servants, what a difference loan forgiveness makes.
Biden campaigned on forgiving $10,000 in student debt for everyone, but he hasn’t done that broadly, instead offering forgiveness targeted to specific groups. It’s time to make good on that promise.