MEA helps members get millions in loan debt forgiven

It was April 1 of this year when MEA member Stacey Daniels received an email that said $50,000 of her student loan debt had been forgiven.

 The Flushing teacher was among hundreds of members who utilized MEA assistance in applying for a temporary waiver last year that relaxed some qualifying rules for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

“Since it was April Fools Day I actually logged into my account to make sure it wasn’t some joke, but nope – it was all true!” Daniels said. “I had $50,000 forgiven! All thanks to the PSLF and MEA.”

MEA organized numerous resources to help members take advantage of the waiver’s benefits and have their applications sped up by months or years.

In a survey of hundreds of MEA members who used the resources – which included video demonstrations, an FAQ, virtual drop-in help sessions, and webinars – 214 completed the survey and 54 reported loan debt forgiveness totaling nearly $3.4 million.

As of March, across Michigan 18,030 people who work in public service had received nearly $1.2 billion in loan forgiveness. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Education has approved $42 billion dollars in student loan forgiveness for more than 615,000 public service workers since October 2021 under the program spearheaded by the Biden administration.  

“This is an incredible example of what a union does – from lobbying to improve the loan forgiveness program to helping members understand and access its benefits,” said Kia Hagens, director of MEA’s Center for Leadership & Learning. 

Passed by Congress in 2007, the program is meant to forgive student loan debt for those who work in the public sector for 10 years and make 120 qualifying payments on student loans. But before the waiver, the 15-year-old PSLF program had denied 98% of applicants.

Thanks to lobbying by tens of thousands of NEA members, the Biden administration created the temporary waiver to some rules barring certain types of federal loans and payment plans from qualifying for PSLF.

The waiver period ended last October, but waiver applications are still being processed and the program itself remains in place. Educators who want to apply for PSLF and/or make certain they are meeting all rules to qualify can learn more here or contact their local MEA field office for information. 

Kristi Craig, president of the Howell Education Association, said her student loan debt had become a huge source of anxiety in her life. A single parent of three kids, she had not been able to pay off the debt as planned and didn’t think she would qualify for PSLF after years of loan servicing mishaps.

However, Craig reluctantly attended a PSLF information session – mostly so she could report back to her members about it. In sharing her story with Hagens, who was facilitating that day, she was encouraged to apply.

“Kia was incredibly kind and non-judgmental and I recall sharing with her that I could have the courage needed in challenging situations as an association leader, but the mere thought of dealing with my student loans – let alone paying them off – was intimidating,” she said.

Recently Craig received notice that $26,000 in remaining student loan debt had been wiped away.

“To say I am grateful is an understatement!” she said.

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