Tester Bill Offers Public Student Loan Forgiveness to Montanans Without Penalty During Outbreak

Senator’s legislation would ensure those trying to qualify for PSLF are forgiven for not paying during national or public health emergencies

As the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic begins to prevent Montanans from making payments on time, U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced a bill to ensure no Montanan looking to qualify for Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) will be penalized for missing a payment during a national or public health emergency.

“Many of the teachers, first responders, and nurses who went into public service after graduating are now on the front lines during this public health emergency, and the very last people who should be penalized for missing a student loan payment,” Tester said. “This bill is straightforward—it allows Montanans who have worked hard to pay back their loans to qualify for the debt forgiveness they need, even if they miss a payment during this public health emergency.”

PSLF, and its 2018 expansion, provide debt relief to Americans who agree to work in public service as teachers, firefighters, nurses, and nonprofits for ten years. To qualify for PSLF, applicants must make 120 qualifying and consecutive payments. PSLF is also a critical tool for rural employers who want to recruit recent graduates to fill jobs in their communities.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced last week that the Department of Education would suspend federal student loan payments and waive interest payments during the national emergency for a period of at least 60 days. However, borrowers who are trying to qualify for PSLF must continue to make their loan payments. While well-intentioned, this new guidance from the Trump Administration overlooks borrowers who may struggle most in the economic fallout from COVID-19, including teachers whose schools are shuttered and non-profit employees whose jobs are in jeopardy. In the midst of this global disaster, Tester is fighting hard so that Americans with student debt across the board do not have to be concerned about the ripple effects of the pandemic.

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. Last year, he urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to better implement the program, and blasted her following revelations that she blocked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from gathering data about student loans.

Tester has been working tirelessly to ensure that Montana is prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. He has introduced legislation to guarantee testing for the virus will be at zero cost, passed bipartisan legislation through the Senate to ensure veterans GI benefits are protected during the outbreak, and successfully pushed the Treasury Department to extend the IRS tax filing deadline. He has also doubled down on his efforts to press the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Indian Health Service to provide veterans, VA healthcare staff, and Tribes with access to proper resources and information.

Visit tester.senate.gov for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak