An Attack on Public Service Loan Forgiveness is an Attack on Legal Aid
The Access to Justice Board wrote a letter to Senator Patty Murray urging her to work with her colleagues in Congress to ensure the continuation and preservation of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The PSLF program has been a vital resource for recruiting and retaining legal aid lawyers over the past decade. PSLF is under threat of elimination. Both the President’s current budget proposal and H.R. 4508, legislation known as the PROSPER Act (Foxx, R- NC), would eliminate PSLF as part of a plan to reform federal student lending. The Senate is now working on a comprehensive higher education bill, and opponents of PSLF are pressuring Senators to include the repeal of the program in that package. Keep reading to learn more about how the PSLF program is critically important to legal aid and how to take action.
What is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program – or PSLF Program?
The PSLF program has a simple objective: individuals employed in public service jobs, such as with government or nonprofit organizations, may receive student loan forgiveness after a decade of making loan payments. The George W. Bush Administration enacted the PSLF program in 2007 in response to the concerns of public sector employers over their difficulties attracting and retaining skilled professionals to fill chronically vacant positions. They learned that steep student loan debt was a primary barrier keeping new graduates from pursuing public service careers. Lowering the student loan barrier strengthens the pipeline of skilled professionals serving in the public sector.
What is the Connection between the PSLF Program and Legal Aid?
Eighty percent of law students take out student loans to attend law school. On average, those who graduate from a private law school incur law school debt of $122,000 and those who graduate from public law schools incur $88,000. These sums are in addition to an average of $30,000 in undergraduate debt. The promise of PSLF makes it feasible for a young lawyer with a staggering amount of debt to choose a career as a legal aid attorney, public defender, or prosecutor − jobs with typical starting salaries of $50,000 or less that are essential to the functioning of our justice system.
People in other professions that provide the public with a continuum of care, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, and first responders, face similar financial obstacles and likewise are eligible for the program.
PSLF is a vital investment in our communities. When attorneys are unable to enter public service or forced to leave the public sector in order to save for a home or because they cannot afford to support their family, the price is paid by their clients as the quality and amount of representation available for low-income Americans is reduced.
Please join us in advocating for the preservation of PSLF. Visit the following page for more information about PSLF, including links to send emails and make calls to your members of Congress: https://policycenter.nlada.org/pslf.