October 04, 2021

60 Minutes Spotlights Broken Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for Military Members

Segment Reflects Importance of Senator Hassan's Bipartisan Work to Expedite Loan Forgiveness for Service Members

WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, Sunday’s 60 Minutes shone a light on the broken public service loan forgiveness program for service members. One challenge that the piece highlighted is that currently, service members who pause their student loan payments while deployed or on extended active duty orders cannot count that period of time toward their student loan forgiveness.

 

Earlier this year, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bipartisan bill to address this issue. The Recognizing Military Service in Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Act would allow service members who defer or forbear their federal student loans during a period of active duty service to count those months toward their Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This would allow them to receive the loan forgiveness that they have earned more quickly.

 

Senator Hassan is leading additional efforts to strengthen the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program overall to help ensure that millions of public servants -- such as fire fighters, law enforcement, teachers, and members of the military -- qualify for the loan forgiveness that they have earned. Additionally, the Senator helped close a loophole in the American Rescue Plan that for-profit colleges use to take advantage of veterans, service members, and their families.

 

CBS: 60 Minutes: Military members promised student debt relief in exchange for ten years of public service say promise is often broken

By Lesley Stahl

 

Student debt is a crushing burden on millions of Americans. To help, Congress passed a law in 2007, creating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, promising that if you're a public servant - a cop, a teacher, a soldier - and you work for 10 years, your debt will be erased.

 

But maybe it should be called the unforgiveness program: 98% of those who've applied for relief were told they're ineligible. We focused on the military. According to an April report by the GAO – the government's watchdog agency - of nearly 180,000 active-duty service-members with federal student loans, only 124 individuals have managed to navigate the confusing rules of the program and get their debt wiped clean.

 

[…]Lesley Stahl: Heather, you were in Afghanistan for a year?

 

Heather Tregle: Yes.

 

Lesley Stahl: So did that year count toward your 120 months?

 

Heather Tregle: Half of it did.

 

Army JAG Major Heather Tregle, mother of two, doesn't know why those six months didn't count. She always stayed on top of her loan, even when she was in warzones. Like when she was in Kandahar and noticed her loan servicing company suddenly hiked up her payments.

 

Heather Tregle: So I spent days, because when you're in Afghanistan, you only can call for 20 minutes at a time--

 

Lesley Stahl: You're calling from over there?

 

Heather Tregle: Correct. So you had to use a morale line to call. And it cuts off after 20 minutes. So I would wait on hold and try to speak to them-- and get it all sorted out. And then tell them, "I am calling from Afghanistan. Can you please give me a number that I can just call you back-- that I don't have to wait on hold?" And they couldn't do that—

 

Here's something else that's maddening: as long as they're in a warzone they're allowed to skip their loan payments. But what's not always explained to them – we discovered - is that that brings their monthly count to a grinding halt. In other words: serving in actual combat can set them back years in getting relief

 

Seth Frotman: Think about what that means. Think about someone who is serving overseas. Think about how many of their kids' birthday parties they missed, only to be told, "None of that time counts."

 

Seth Frotman heads an advocacy group called the Student Borrower Protection Center. He says borrowers should have started getting relief through the forgiveness program four years ago – a decade after it started – but over 9 out of 10 military members who have applied for debt relief have been turned down. 

 

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