The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) continues to advocate for student loan debt-relief for social workers and to improve existing debt-relief programs such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Unfortunately, programs such as PSLF have been wrought with endemic challenges, making it difficult for social workers especially to access debt relief—even after satisfying all of this program’s service requirements.
NASW views student loan debt relief as a social justice priority – especially when placed within the context of a professional field in which the high educational debt burden intersects with historically low salaries and reimbursement for the critical services rendered by this essential workforce.
To further elevate this critical workforce issue, NASW secured an oral testimony opportunity for two NASW members to share their personal stories and experiences with student loan debt. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hosted a listening session on May 3, 2022, in which NASW members, Megan Bailey and Deborah Harburger, testified about the burden of student loan debt. A recording of the listening session is available on the Committee’s website.
Megan, who continues to work in community mental health, shared that although she was able to qualify for the National Health Service Corps program, she continues to have a large debt burden as repayment funds received only primarily covered much of accrued the interest on her student loan debt. In her testimony, Megan said, “I worry about the pipeline into the health and behavioral health professions and whether today’s high school students will continue to choose careers in mental health and behavioral healthcare, with such exorbitant tuition, low salaries and difficult working conditions.” Megan is again seeking student loan debt-relief through the temporary waiver, and is currently awaiting a decision from the Department of Education on her PSLF application.
Deborah, has worked for 18 years for the State of Maryland. She participated in the Child Welfare Title IV-E Program, a federal training program which helped pay for her graduate work. In her testimony, Deborah said, “In 2017, after completing 10 years of public service, I was stunned to receive a denial, informing me that, while my payments had been on time and my employment qualified, my particular federal, student loans were not eligible.” Deborah was then advised to move her loans into a different program and to “re-start the 10 year and 120-payment clock.” Like Megan, Deborah is again seeking relief, and is awaiting a decision from the Department of Education on her PSLF application through the temporary waiver.
On May 5, 2022, after the Megan and Deborah’s testimony, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hosted a hearing on student loan debt, Examining Student Loan Servicers and Their Impact on Workers. Mike Pierce, Executive Director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, with whom NASW partners on student loan debt advocacy, provided testimony at the hearing. He called for improvements in the student loan debt process and cancellation of student loan debt, saying, “Ending the student debt crisis is a matter of equity and a matter of justice.”
To find out more about NASW‘s advocacy efforts and student loan debt relief, visit the NASW website.