Thousands more people could soon have their student loan balances wiped clean as the Biden administration works to identify borrowers who are eligible for student loan forgiveness for public service. It's the latest effort by the Education Department to provide relief for borrowers burdened with billions of dollars in student loan debt.
The number of student loan borrowers eligible for forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is up to 100,000, the Education Department said Wednesday, of the approximately 550,000 they anticipated would ultimately be granted forgiveness sooner after changes to the program last fall. The latest group amounts to approximately $6.2 billion in loans eligible for discharge.
"Our nation's public service workers must be able to rely on the promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The Biden-Harris administration is delivering on that promise by helping more and more eligible borrowers get their loan balances forgiven," said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. "The PSLF announcement made today means more of our dedicated teachers, nurses, first responders, servicemembers, and many other public service workers will get meaningful relief."
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The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program cancels the balances of direct loans for eligible borrowers who are employed full-time in government or not-for-profit organizations once they've made 120 monthly qualified payments on loans under qualified repayment plans. The program was part of a larger package of education legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007.
In October, the Biden administration announced an overhaul to the program allowing borrowers to receive credit for past loan repayment periods that may not have otherwise qualified. Prior to the rule changes, only 16,000 borrowers had ever received forgiveness through the program. As of January, the changes had helped more than 70,000 borrowers qualify for forgiveness totaling nearly $5 billion.
The total 100,000 borrowers now identified as eligible for forgiveness through the public service program is the latest effort in an ongoing push by the Biden administration to help student loan borrowers find relief.
According to the Education Department, some 675,000 borrowers saw more than $15 billion in federal student loans discharged during President Joe Biden's first year in office. That included $1.5 billion to borrowers who were found to have been taken advantage of by their institutions; $7 billion for more than 400,000 borrowers who were permanently disabled; and $1.26 billion for more than 100,000 borrowers who attended the now-shuttered ITT Technical Institute.
The Biden administration also extended the freeze on federal student loan payments amid the coronavirus pandemic by more than a year until May 2022.
But while the Biden administration has been ramping up relief for some student loan borrowers, some advocates and lawmakers say the efforts so far do not go far enough. There is more than $1.7 trillion in student loan debt in the United States. More than 43 million borrowers hold federal student loan debt.
Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have called for the Biden administration to cancel $50,000 in student loan debt.
Mr. Biden has expressed general support for canceling student loan debt but has urged Congress to send him legislation. But the Democratic lawmakers calling for student loans debt to be canceled argue Biden has the authority to cancel it unilaterally.
Amid escalating pressure last year, the Biden administration said it would examine the president's authority to cancel student loan debt, but officials have not yet made any announcement.