A federal student loan forgiveness waiver for public service workers — including teachers, nurses, workers at nonprofits, and state and municipal employees — is expiring on Oct. 31.
The program, which has no income limit and no cap on the amount of debt that can be forgiven, has been around since 2007, for borrowers who consolidate their student debts, but was expanded during COVID in part to include Perkins and Stafford loans.
Only about 16,000 people nationwide, or .1 percent of eligible borrowers, have had their loans forgiven – a low number that advocates blame on a combination of low awareness of the program and people being denied in the past because of “technicalities.” .
According to Education Data Initiative, about 500,000 Connecticut residents owe on average $35,000 in student loan debt. More than half of these borrowers are below the age of 35.
Cristher Estrada Perez, executive director of the Student Loan Fund, said during a press conference in Hartford on Wednesday that so far only about 1 percent of the 110,000 people who work in public sector jobs in Connecticut have had their loans canceled since the program launched.
SLF advocates for the cancellation of student loan debt and “economic justice.”
Perez told listeners that she herself is enrolled in the program, having accrued about $80,000 in debt for her bachelor’s degree. She said her mother, Daisy, owes $90,000 of student loan debt including $15,000 to help her daughter, and is also planning to apply to the program.
Daisy Perez is in her fourth year of working as a nurse, currently at St. Francis Hospital. She told CT Examiner that she had a monthly loan payment of $700. She said she had worked two jobs to put her daughter through college — she worked for Hartford Hospital and for an ambulance service, pulling about 100 hours a week.
“She actually was one of our first to go to college,” Perez said. “I can’t say no, as a mom.”
After her daughter graduated, Perez said, she went back to school to earn a nursing degree through Goodwin University, taking out her own loans to do so. Having her loans forgiven, Perez said, would make it possible for her to purchase a house.
“I’m forty-eight years old. I don’t have a house of my own,” she said.
Under the program, people can receive the debt forgiveness even if they have not graduated from the institution they attended, and even if they did not pass the classes they took. Cristher Perez encouraged people to apply even if they hadn’t yet been working in the public sector for 10 years.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the loan program is another incentive for people to take jobs in public service.
“Whether you’re serving as a paraprofessional or as a teacher in our schools, or whether you’re serving as a firefighter or police officer or an administrator in our cities, or whether you’re serving our country in uniform, you get enormous fulfillment from that career,” said Bronin. “You get a great career with good paying benefits, but you also can get your student loans forgiven. And at this time when so many communities are looking for more people to hire, to do these vitally important jobs in our communities, we want to make sure everybody knows that’s one more reason to choose public service.”
The state, which is facing a wave of recent retirements, has struggled to recruit workers in a variety of public sectors. School districts across the state areing reporting staffing shortages, and districts are using incentives like one-time bonuses in an effort to fill those gaps. A shortage of nurses and healthcare workers has led the state to invest in universities that train healthcare workers. Last year, an internal report found that the state had a shortfall of over 400 workers in the Department of Correction, and the number of state troopers has dropped by at least 300 over the last three years.
More information about the program is available at www.pslfCT.org.