Michelle Hartzog is a social worker with the LA County Department of Children and Family Services. When she started at DCFS, she made around $50,000 a year, and she lives accordingly, driving a used car and bringing her lunch to work every day. Her job is to help kids who have been abused or neglected. “When I found out that there was a proposal to eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness,” she told me, “I immediately felt sick with worry.”
Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007 with bipartisan support, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) allows people in certain nonprofit and public-service jobs who have worked full-time for 10 years and made 120 on-time payments to have the remaining balance of their federal student-loan debt forgiven. Participants must be enrolled in one of four eligible repayment plans and have federal loans from, or consolidated into, the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program. The percentage of their income PSLF participants are expected to devote to repayment each month has fluctuated under different administrations and is now around 10 percent.
Thirty-three, married, and expecting her first child, Michelle said that she and her husband waited to have children until they could afford to spend an additional $1,202 a month on childcare, on top of the hundreds of dollars a month they must set aside to repay Michelle’s loans. Michelle has made around 80 of the 120 required payments and is depending on having the remaining balance forgiven in about three years. Without PSLF, she said, “my career and my financial future, including the economic well-being of my family, will be negatively affected.”
In February, the Prosper Act, introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), moved out of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, which Foxx chairs. If passed in the House, the bill—which has garnered opposition from dozens of education groups, including the American Association of University Women, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the American Council on Education—will increase higher-education costs and make it easier for predatory lenders and high-priced, low-performing institutions to exploit students. It would also eliminate PSLF.
Expensive advanced degrees are required to enter and/or advance in many public-service jobs, including social work. Ending PSLF would make it extraordinarily difficult for low-income people to obtain these degrees and significantly harder to recruit educated young people in high-need fields like social work, where the median annual wage is $46,890 and 69 percent of workers are over 35. The demand for social workers, especially in health care and social services, is growing, but pay has remained stagnant and workers are aging out of the field.