AFT Leads Court Victory on Student Loan Forgiveness

Friday, November 19, 2021

On October 12, a settlement was reached in Weingarten v. DeVos, a lawsuit filed in July of 2019 by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) against then-Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  The agreement reached in the case has the potential to provide relief to thousands of union members who have had claims filed in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) that were unfairly rejected.

According to AFT President, Randi Weingarten, the current Department of Education, led by Secretary, Miguel Cardona, has agreed as part of the court settlement, to work with unions to ensure relief for the countless borrowers who relied on the promise of the PSLF program when they made the commitment to work in public service jobs.  Potentially, thousands of AFT members who are nurses, educators, public employees, school staff and higher education staff could see their student loans completely forgiven or find access to enrollment in a forgiveness program that will credit their years of past payments and put them closer to full loan forgiveness.

The federal Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a United States government program created under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 to provide indebted professionals a way out of their federal student loan debt burden by working full-time in public service.  The law was signed by President George W. Bush in September of 2007.  It stated that an individual qualifies for PSLF after making 120 on-time, monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.  After the borrower has made 120 qualifying payments, any remaining balance of the borrower’s eligible student loan is forgiven without any tax implications.  Currently, there is no cap as to the amount of forgiveness a borrower can receive.

In April of 2020, the Department of Education reported that 2,215 borrowers had the remainder of their respective student loans forgiven under the PSLF program.  However, while some public workers got relief, stories began to surface from as early as 2017 of PSLF applications being denied and misinformation being presented by members of the Department of Education to deter people from pursuing the application process.  In court proceedings, lawyers representing AFT presented evidence that 98 percent of all borrowers who applied for PSLF were denied.  Eight members of the AFT, along with Weingarten, joined together to file suit to hold the Department of Education accountable and to have their qualified applications under PSLF honored in accordance with the law.

As part of the settlement in Weingarten v. DeVos, the Department of Education has been given no more than 90 days to commence with a full review of all applications of PSLF that were denied prior to November 2020 by borrowers who had made 10 years of direct student loan repayments and redress the flawed practices that led to the unfair denial of so many valid applications

The AFT, and our state teachers’ union, NYSUT, are fully aware that the recent court settlement will result in many questions amongst union members as to what steps they should take to apply for PSLF or to resubmit an application that had previously been denied.  The webpage linked below, from NYSUT, contains a variety of helpful resources including the free counseling and informational sessions available to NYSUT members.

The AFT has put out a fact sheet and a webpage where you can sign up for notifications as soon as it becomes possible for to apply or reapply for PSLF.  Click the link below to access that webpage

In an article posted on the AFT website, Weingarten said, The AFT has fought hard for years to make PSLF work for the borrowers it was intended to help, and with this settlement we have ensured that a promise made is a promise kept.” “Congress pledged relief to those who dedicated their lives to serving the public, but 98 percent got a debt sentence instead.” “[This settlement] is vindication for the millions of borrowers who took the government at its word but were cruelly denied through no fault of their own.”

Weingarten also provide AFT members with a link to a Google Drive “Settlement Toolkit” that includes a variety of articles about the court settlement, resources and contact info.  You can access that toolkit by clicking on the link below.


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