Tester Turns Up Pressure After DeVos Stonewalls on Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program’s ‘bureaucratic nightmare’

Tester continues push after Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was blocked from examining shady loan service companies

After five weeks of silence from the Department of Education regarding significant problems with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) programs, U.S. Senator Jon Tester this week continued his push for answers from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the wake of revelations that she blocked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) from gathering data about student loans.

Tester first wrote to Secretary DeVos on September 10th demanding her response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that raised significant concerns about her implementation of PSLF and TEPSLF.

“As Montanans reach the required 10 years of service to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, too many are finding the process to be nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare,” wrote Tester in his follow-up letter. “I am disappointed that I have not yet received a response about how the Department of Education is addressing the myriad of concerns laid forth in [the GAO] report.”

Tester continued: “In testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) testified that your Department blocked CFPB examiners from culling information about the status of the PSLF in student loan servicing agencies. In so doing, your Department prohibited the nation’s primary consumer protection agency from intervening and potentially offering solutions to some of the borrowers seeking relief from their student loans… Once more, the Department’s lack of transparency about the shortfalls of the PSLF program is alarming. ”

PSLF, and its 2018 expansion with TEPSLF, provide debt relief to Americans who agree to work in public service as teachers, firefighters, nurses, and nonprofits for ten years. PSLF is also a critical tool for rural employers who want to recruit recent graduates to fill jobs in their communities. However, the September 5th GAO report found numerous problems with the implementation of the programs, including significant mismanagement and bureaucratic hurdles that resulted in a less than one percent rate of approval for those applying to have their loans forgiven through TEPSLF in its first year. Secretary DeVos has yet to answer Senator Tester’s letter demanding her response to the report.

Additionally, during a Senate Banking Committee hearing last week, CFPB Director Kathleen Kraninger confirmed that the Department of Education had blocked her Bureau’s attempts to gather data on problems with the PSLF and TEPSLF programs. Tester grilled Director Kraninger, urging her to move forward with examinations of how student loan servicing companies were treating public service workers applying for debt relief.

Tester closed his letter to Secretary DeVos by emphasizing the importance of fixing the PSLF and TEPSLF programs: “I am writing again today to reiterate the necessity of mitigating these concerns for borrowers in as thorough a manner as possible. While I appreciate the Department’s workload, the lack of response to my letter of more than five weeks ago indicates to me that addressing this issue is a not a priority for the Department.”

Tester has led efforts in Congress to strengthen education benefits for Montanans and led an expansion of the PSLF program to cover volunteer first responders. He is also working to address teacher workforce shortages in rural America with the Rural Educator Support and Training (REST) and Native Educator Support and Training (NEST) Acts, which would provide scholarships, loan forgiveness, and professional development opportunities to educators who commit to work in rural schools and in Indian Country.

Read the full letter HERE.