NEW JERSEY – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) Tuesday joined education officials and public worker unions for a roundtable discussion about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and his efforts to reform and expand the program, as well as help make more New Jersey public workers aware of their potential eligibility.
“The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is one of the most ambitious college affordability initiatives since the G.I. bill. Its premise is simple — make 10 years of monthly payments on federal student loans while working full-time in public service and the government will forgive your remaining balance,” Menendez said. “For teachers, nurses, first responders and more, the program is essentially the light at the end of the tunnel — a way to know that after a decade of work the burden of student loan debt will be lifted as a “thank you” for the service they’ve provided. However, as all of us here know, the lofty ideals of the PSLF program and the reality on the ground have often been two very different things. It is why for years I’ve been hard at work — fighting to reform the PSLF program and ensure that it lives up to its intended goal.”
In April, Sen. Menendez introduced the PSLF Payment Completion Fairness Act, which would remove the requirement that a borrower must be employed in a public service job at the time of application for loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
Additionally, this month Senator Menendez will be sending a letter to the Department of Education asking them to work with student loan servicers to address issues for PSLF borrowers regarding the upcoming restart of payments. Specifically, many borrowers have been approved for relief but have not received final discharge and should not be required to make payments.
“The public servants here today and those covered by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program dedicate their career to improving and protecting the lives of others. They have my gratitude and appreciation,” said Dr. Teik C. Lim, President of the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was created to encourage young people to consider public service jobs rather than pursuing a ‘get rich’ career. The future of our state and country depends on teachers, school staff, public college professors, firefighters, EMTs, municipal clerks and other public service employees. They enter these professions because they value the work and want to contribute to their communities. The bipartisan PSLF Payment Completion Fairness Act recognizes the benefit and importance of public employees by making it easier to forgive their student loans, and it ensures we will continue to have people willing to dedicate their professional lives to serve others,” said Donna M. Chiera, President of the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey (AFTNJ).
“Continuing our education helps us advance in our careers because it makes us better firefighters,” said Carlos Mercado, Chairman of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association’s Legislative Committee. “Senator Menendez has been a tireless advocate of efforts that help us work safer and we are also grateful that he is also lending his voice and legislative acumen to giving us this important tool to work smarter.”
“On behalf of our President Susan Cleary, our other officers, executive board members, staff, students, and our 9,000 plus members in NJ, District 1199J would like to thank Senator Menendez for always thinking of the everyday pocketbook/wallet issues that affect so many people,” said Daryn Martin, Special Assistant to the President for District 1199J.
Sen. Menendez’s bipartisan bill would change a technicality in federal law that unnecessarily requires that PSLF applicants be employed in a public service role at the time of applying for forgiveness, even if they have already made 120 qualifying payments. This has negatively affected public service employees who have completed their 120 payments, decided to retire or move on from their current jobs or public service careers, and suddenly become ineligible for forgiveness even though they dutifully served their communities for at least ten years.
The PSLF Payment Completion Fairness Act has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), Communication Workers of America (CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).
In addition to his work to reform the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, Sen. Menendez has long advocated for meaningful student debt cancellation, and applauded the Biden Administration when it took the historic step to cancel student debt for millions of student borrowers last year. Following the MAGA Supreme Court’s decision striking down President Biden’s debt relief program, Senator Menendez joined Senator Warren in urging the administration to quickly institute a new broad debt relief program allowed under the Higher Education Act.
In addition to pushing for student debt cancellation, last September Sen. Menendez penned an op-ed urging the Biden Administration to keep the pause on student debt payments in place until it developed and implemented a unified plan to tackle the broken student loan system. His recommendations included improvements to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and lower payments under existing Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) programs. Since then, the Administration has taken significant steps modeled after the recommendations the Senator outlined in his op-ed, as well as PSLF legislation he introduced last summer.
Last April, Sen. Menendez and several of his colleagues also called on the Departments of Education and Justice to follow through on their pledge to improve the handling of student debt bankruptcy claims. Sen. Menendez authored the Student Loan Tax Relief Act, along with Sen. Warren, which exempts forgiven student loan debt from tax liability through 2026. The lawmakers had this provision successfully included in the American Rescue Plan.