September 20, 2019

NYC art teacher puts a face on the loan forgiveness debacle

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT Communications
kelly finlaw
Caption: "If the PSLF program wasn’t meant for me—a teacher who loves her job, pays her bills, and comes from a family where loans were her only option—who was it meant for?" asks NYC art teacher Kelly Finlaw. Screenshot courtesy C-SPAN.

In painstaking detail before a congressional committee, New York City art teacher Kelly Finlaw explained how the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program has failed her – like so many others — and desperately needs to be fixed.

“I am here today so that you can see the face of a person who has been impacted by the gross mismanagement of PSLF,” Finlaw told members of the House Education and Labor Committee. “I was misled and lied to.”

Finlaw, who is one of eight American Federation of Teachers members suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education, was the only teacher on the hearing panel.

In great detail, she explained how she was repeatedly told by loan servicers that she was on track for the PSLF program, which is supposed to cancel the balance for eligible public servants once they’ve made 10 years of monthly payments.

"After 10 years of making student loan payments, October 2017 was my month — my light at the end of the tunnel," Finlaw said. "I remember standing in my living room when the light at the tunnel went dark." She said the reason she was denied, which no loan servicer had ever raised, was that one of the loans was not a direct loan.

“I share my story because there was a promise that was made to me and to millions of other public servants. That promise is being broken every day,” Finlaw said. As of March 2019, the Education Department had forgiven the debt of only 518 public servants, fewer than 1 percent of its applicants.

Congressional Democrats on the panel told Finlaw they want to fix the program.

Committee chairman Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, noted there’s obviously something wrong with the program implementation when 99 percent of the applicants are rejected.

student debt lawsuit team
United Federation of Teachers member Kelly Finlaw and Missouri educator Gloria Nolan are plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education over their mishandling of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. From left, attorney Yelena Konanova, Nolan, attorney Margaret Siller, Finlaw and AFT President Randi Weingarten. Photo provided.

“These aren’t puzzles or contests, this is a program that you are supposed to benefit from,” Scott said.

Democrats expressed great frustration that James Steeley, CEO of the company that exclusively handles the PSLF refused to testify. Finlaw called it outrageous that Steeley could just say no.

“If my principal called me in and I said, 'Nah, I’m not going to go,' it would mean my job,” Finlaw said. “And yet there’s an empty seat next to me. I don’t get to look anybody in the eye.”

Denied PSLF? Try again.

As of March 2019, the U.S. Department of Education has forgiven the loans of fewer than 1 percent of borrowers who applied for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

After so many borrowers were denied access to the program, Congress last year approved a temporary expansion of the program to allow more borrowers to qualify.

The $350 million is available on a first-come, first-served basis. To qualify, your application must have already been denied because some or all of the payments were made under the wrong type of repayment plan. Borrowers who believe they may qualify for Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) should email a request to TEPSLF@ myfedloan.org and ask that the Education Department reconsider your eligibility.

For more information, go to studentaid.ed.gov or contact FedLoan Servicing at 1-855- 265-4038 from 8 a.m.–9 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Help is available

NYSUT is committed to helping members who are struggling with student debt.

After training from American Federation of Teachers, NYSUT staffers are conducting student debt clinics in regional offices around the state.

Working in partnership with Cambridge Credit Counseling, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit agency, NYSUT Member Benefits is also sponsoring regional events and sending Cambridge Credit representatives to conferences and some local union meetings.

NYSUT members are eligible for a free, no-obligation, debt and student loan consultation with one of Cambridge’s certified counselors.

There is no charge to call and speak with a counselor, who can review members’ loans and help determine the best repayment options.

The company has a dedicated telephone line (888-254-9827) for NYSUT members to get counseling for student loans, or for any other debt management issues. To date, more than 1,000 NYSUT members have contacted Cambridge for help.

Cambridge also offers a web portal available at a reduced rate of $14.95 that can help explain the various options when paying down student debt, including student loan forgiveness programs, income-based repayment options and more. A report will be provided based on loan information and responses to questions.

For more information, go to memberbenefits.nysut.org/cambridge.

The AFT recently rolled out a new online debt relief tool called “Summer.” It’s an interface similar to Turbo-Tax that can help ease student debt payments.

Go to meetsummer.org/aft for more. In addition, AFT’s Forgivemystudentdebt.org website provides public service workers information about the federal PSLF program.

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