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AFT Sues DeVos Over Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program Denials

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) filed a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday, accusing her of stymying public service workers from participating in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program they are supposed to have access to under federal law. 

Eight student loan borrowers who are teachers or work in public service jobs, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and the national union itself represent the plaintiffs in the suit. The suit, Weingarten v. DeVos, was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. 

Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which was launched by Congress in 2007 to encourage participation in public service, student loan borrowers who hold these positions are supposed to become eligible to have the remaining balance on their loans discharged after making 10 years of payments. 

However, over the past few years, approximately 99 percent of program applications have been rejected by the Education Department, leaving many borrowers who planned their professional careers around promises of loan forgiveness stuck with thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

AFT and the plaintiffs have alleged the Trump administration of arbitrarily and capriciously denying the applications, of mismanaging the loan servicers that aid in administering the program, and of depriving borrowers of their basic rights to due process. 

“Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a right, but Betsy DeVos has turned it into a crapshoot,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Instead of helping the millions of Americans owed debt relief under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, DeVos has hurt and pauperized them. And instead of working with lawmakers to improve the program that millions of teachers, firefighters, nurses and first responders deserve, DeVos has vandalized it.”

Department officials have claimed that the applications are being overwhelmingly denied since borrowers are not meeting eligibility requirements, and that the agency is sufficiently facilitating the program in the meantime.

In an email to Politico, Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill said that while the department “doesn’t comment on pending litigation,” the agency is “faithfully administering the complex program Congress passed.”

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