The Department of Education's (ED) negotiated rulemaking committee, now at the midpoint of this week's final session, continued discussions on Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, and listened to a presentation from the Prison Education Programs subcommittee.
In kicking off the day's discussion, the committee jumped back into its conversation on PSLF, where members expressed some more specific concerns with ED's proposed language.
Much of the initial conversation focused on ED's PSLF waiver authority, as members thanked the department for improving the approval process for a large swath of borrowers.
Negotiator Joseph Sanders, the student loan ombudsman in the Illinois Attorney General's Office representing state attorneys general, questioned how ED was aiming to improve the "abysmal" approval rate of PSLF.
"I think of PSLF as being about time and not so much about money. The idea here is that people give 10 years of public service, and in exchange for that 10 years, their student loans are forgiven," Sanders said, urging ED to focus on the time a borrower works in service and less on the payments.
Jennifer Hong, a negotiator on behalf of the department, said ED could not skirt around the fact that the PSLF statute requires monthly payments, pointing to the expansion of the full-time employment definition to be more inclusive, expanding what constitutes a monthly payment, and including payments made during certain deferments and forbearance as qualifying monthly payments.
Daniel Barkowitz, director of financial aid at Valencia College and a NASFAA member, thanked ED for language change to teacher qualifications for PSLF to better ensure access to the benefit based on teachers' schedules. Barkowitz also expressed concern over the exclusion of borrowers receiving PSLF who work at for-profit entities, arguing that ED should be more broad to ensure that the spirit of the program, benefiting students who offer public service, is upheld.
Negotiators also discussed the intent of PSLF and urged ED to find ways to ensure access to individuals who work in public service but may not be employed by a nonprofit.
Bethany Lilly, a negotiator for individuals with disabilities or groups representing them, highlighted the importance of addressing repayment burdens for essential workers, some of whom (like health care employees and grocery store clerks who had to work throughout the pandemic) might need targeted aid relief or access to the program since their services have been desperately needed.
Many of the issues also related to IDR with some negotiators indicating that the tension with PSLF language might be placated if there were improvements to IDR. According to Lilly, this is where much of the tension was, with concern that low-wage workers would be left with no tenable options for loan repayment.
Following the PSLF discussion, the committee held off on its consensus check for a presentation from the Prison Education Programs subcommittee.
Subcommittee members offered a presentation of their work and recommendations to the full committee. During the presentation, the subcommittee detailed its work and highlighted language that members agreed on so the full committee could review the amended language.
Members then had a discussion with special focus on ED's proposal that Prison Education Programs be considered additional locations, accreditor site visits, and completion rates. Following a robust conversation, the committee then turned to the subcommittee's text.
The full committee discussed the details of the subcommittee text for roughly an hour, before the designated public comment period at the end of the day.
During the discussion, Heather Perfetti, a negotiator representing accrediting agencies, expressed several concerns about the involvement of accrediting agencies and the impact the subcommittee's proposed regulations could have on them. Michaela Martin, a negotiator representing independent students, added that it was concerning that accrediting agencies were not included in the subcommittee and asked whether there would be an opportunity to address those concerns before taking a consensus check on the subcommittee text. Any committee members with serious reservations will be able to propose changes for the committee to consider.
Members will reconvene Thursday morning to finish discussion of the subcommittee text and then return to discussion on PSLF and IDR.
Publication Date: 12/9/2021