Debbie Baker thought she was qualified for a federal program that helps teachers like her, as well as nurses, police, librarians and others. The program of the Ministry of Education waives their federal student loans when they make their payments for 10 years and work in the public service.
For 10 years, Baker, a teacher at a public school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, went to loan management companies and was told that she was on the job. right way.
Courtesy of Janelle Menzel
"I said," I qualify for the Public Service Loan Cancellation, "and they responded," I agree, that's fine, "she said.
But it turns out that his $ 76,000 in student loans have not been forgiven. Baker finally learned that she had contracted the wrong kind of loan. If she had known at first, she could have changed loans and qualify. But she says no one has ever told him.
"When that hit … I did not know whether to cry, throw up, get angry," she said. "Honestly, I did not think the federal government would do that to anyone."
Today, Baker is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by one of the largest teacher unions in the country against the Department of Education. The lawsuit alleges that the loan forgiveness program for millions of public service employees is so disastrous that it violates federal law and the Constitution.
The American Federation of Teachers plans to file a complaint Thursday in Federal Court. In a draft of the complaint obtained by NPR, the union asks the court to order the ministry to set the public service loan waiver program so that it meets legal standards. He also asks the ministry to put in place an appeal process for people who feel they have been treated unfairly.
The congress created the program more than ten years ago to encourage public service. So, if you make loan payments for 10 years and you work in an eligible job for the government or a non-profit organization, the program promises you to cancel the balance of your federal student loan debt.
This promise seemed really good for a lot of people. More than one million have filed official documents to participate in the program. But there is a problem.
"The promise is broken almost all the time," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "It's a debacle."
Many watchdogs consumers are in agreement.
"The Ministry of Education just does not seem to understand that," said Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and formerly a senior lawyer at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "They continue to make mistakes and do not appropriately manage this program created by Congress."
According to the last count of the Ministry, only 1% of people who think they have made 10 years of payments and request a loan exemption are approved.
If you take all the people who get rejected and collect them in the same place, says Peterson, you'll get "football stadiums filled with nurses, firefighters, teachers, police officers, peace seeking to clear their debts. "
He says that they "made all these payments under the impression that they were on the right track and that they are now pushing back in droves".
Courtesy of Kelly Baker
As was the case with Debbie Baker, if a student loan borrower uses a wrong type of loan or a bad type of repayment plan, he can not claim a loan waiver. According to the complaint filed by the teachers' union, the Ministry of Education "knows – but totally ignores – repeated misrepresentations made by Title IV agents to borrowers trying to qualify (…), this which gives rise to unwarranted refusals to waive a loan. "
In other words, people like Baker do not get the right information or advice, and many of them end up in the wrong types of loans or repayment plans and find themselves unfairly disqualified. Government reports and investigations have revealed similar problems with borrowers getting bad information.
The lawsuit also alleges that loan management companies have trouble keeping track of the number of eligible payments made by people, even when they have the right loan and payment plan and manage to do things well. .
Weingarten says the program hurts the very people it's supposed to help. "It is so broken, so unfair that it violates our fundamental requirement of the US Constitution," she said.
Another problem with borrowers being rejected after many years of experience is that many make decisive decisions based on the expectation of a loan waiver.
Janelle Menzel is Professor of Mathematics in Brainerd, Minnesota. She says people would ask her, "You have a degree in mathematics, why are you teaching?" She says that they would tell her that she could earn "a lot more money in the private sector" .
Menzel says that she likes to teach. And she thought that she was going to get her student loan canceled, so financially, she decided that made sense. "Oh yes, definitely, that was a factor," she says.
But just like Baker, Menzel says that after 10 years of payments, her loan management officer told her that she was in the wrong kind of federal loan and that she therefore could not to qualify.
If a call center employee had told her that 10 years ago, she could have easily obtained the right type of loan. But she says no one has ever told him. And if that has never happened.
She recalls after repeatedly contacting her credit provider, trying to find a way to appeal, a call center employee told her, "Look, you just need to give up."
"And I remember that I was sitting at the table and watching my kids run and play and that I thought, I'm trapped now, "Menzel recounts.The thoughts of" the freedom that would flow from the release of student debt collapsed in this moment, "she adds.
Congress passed a partial patch, called Extended Temporary Forgiveness, which aimed to help at least some borrowers. But the lawsuit filed by the teachers' union alleges that the Ministry of Education "mismanaged [that program] as well. "As of March 2019, only 3.6% of applications for this new program had been approved.
The Ministry of Education has not yet commented on the lawsuit.
Navient, one of the largest loan management companies in the country, does not comment on the lawsuit. In a statement to NPR, the company said: "We understand the frustration of borrowers in navigating a complex federal lending program, which is why we consistently advocate for policy reforms to simplify the system."
The Ministry of Education has recently put in place a spectacular solution to a different program, TEACH grants, which now allows for grants to thousands of people to whom grants have been unfairly withdrawn.
NPR is looking for people who have had difficulty qualifying for the Public Service Loan Program. Share your story in the form below or here:
If possible, insert the following lines into your
<! – Insert everything below in the. ->
Powered by Screendoor.