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.
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
After so many borrowers were denied
access to the program, Congress
last year approved a temporary expansion
of the program to allow more borrowers
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
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
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
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
provides public service workers
information about the federal PSLF