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May 31, 2019

The latest developments and trends in federal affairs impacting allied health education.

Legislative Spotlight – Public Service Loan Forgiveness

ASAHP was invited to participate as part of a small group of key stakeholders today in a discussion with a leading Member of the House Appropriations Committee. The message we received was “if you like what is in the House’s FY 20 appropriations bills, push the Senate to adopt the House’s overall spending level” (which includes $11.7 billion in funding for Labor, Health, and Education programs above current funding levels).

As negotiations on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act continue in Congress, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program has become a point of contention. Congressional Democrats strongly support PSLF, but the Administration has sought unsuccessfully to eliminate PSLF in its last two budget proposals. Many Republicans in Congress also have serious concerns about PSLF, including the costs of the program and believe it incentivizes students to borrow more than might be necessary, in anticipation of having the loans forgiven after ten years of public service.  The debate over PSLF impacts the allied health workforce, as ASAHP was successfully in including a provision providing up to $10,000 in loan forgiveness for allied health workers as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The debate over PSLF has come to a head now that the first cohort of students has become eligible for loan forgiveness. The Department of Education made headlines in March when it released data showing only about one percent of the 86,000 applications for public service loan forgiveness had been accepted. The majority of rejected applicants were not approved based on their inability to make qualifying payments, while others were rejected for reasons such as missing information or ineligible loans.

This week, ASAHP met personally with the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee Bobby Scott (D-VA), who is charged with reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA), to discuss both our priorities for HEA reauthorization and our concern about the Department’s lack of loan forgiveness for potentially eligible workers. Chairman Scott expressed his concern about the Department’s actions and his desire to ensure that eligible workers have access to loan forgiveness.

In addition, Scott expressed to ASAHP his desire to work with Republicans in a bipartisan manner to revamp HEA upon the conclusion of a set of bipartisan hearings in his Committee in June. A similar attempt is ongoing in the Senate HELP Committee under the leadership of Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray, attempting to find a bipartisan way forward on HEA. Neither of these efforts is expected to propose eliminating PSLF.

Along with HEA reauthorization discussions in both the House and Senate education committees, a separate effort is ongoing to protect PSLF programming. The “What You Can Do for Your Country Act of 2019” has been introduced in both the House and Senate to rectify any bureaucratic issues preventing the Department of Education from providing loan forgiveness to eligible public service workers. ASAHP has endorsed this legislation, which incorporates measures that would:

·         Allow all types of federal loans to qualify for PSLF;
·         Ensure all federal repayment plans would qualify, including those that are on extended or graduated plans;
·         Allow borrowers to receive a partial benefit after five years of public service;
·         Mandate the Department of Education to provide clearer information and guidance;
·         Simplify the application and certification process.

The Senate bill, S. 1203, led by Sen. Gillibrand and Sen. Kaine, was introduced and referred to the Senate HELP Committee. The House version, H.R. 2441, led by Rep. Sarbanes and Rep. DeSaulnier, was introduced in the House and referred to the Education and Labor Committee. Unfortunately, neither bill has Republican cosponsors to date and it is not expected to be enacted as standalone legislation this Congress, but this bill is a step forward and is now part of the conversation on PSLF and HEA reauthorization.    

Senate bill text: here
House bill text: here
Fact sheet: here

In addition, a number of Democratic candidates for President have proposed plans to protect PSLF.

ASAHP will continue to work with key Members of Congress to raise their awareness of the current challenges in accessing PSLF and is collaborating with a variety of like-minded organizations as part of the PSLF Coalition.