A controversial Republican proposal from last Congress to eliminate a student loan forgiveness program for public servants, including military service members, may be off the table.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill this week, the new chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said the program isn’t going anywhere — “not if I have anything to do with it.”
Plans to scrap the public service loan forgiveness program, or PSLF, were part of a larger package of proposed reforms to higher education included in the PROSPER Act, legislation that was hotly contested by many veteran education advocates as it made its way through the formerly Republican-led committee last year.
Even the Pentagon opposed eliminating the program, which forgives student loan debt for eligible borrowers after 10 years of qualifying payments. A Defense Department document called it an “important recruitment and retention tool for the military to compete with the civilian sector,” particularly in specialty fields. The Navy also raised concerns about how getting rid of the program would affect recruiting for its Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Yet the bill’s proponents saw PROSPER as a way to curb rising college costs and enable students to pursue careers without demonstrable student loan debt. A former spokesman for the committee told Military Times, “We have heard from many groups on provisions within the PROSPER Act, and believe the bill will provide veterans and active duty military the best opportunity to achieve a postsecondary education that they rightly deserve.”
A committee spokesperson for the Republican side, now in the minority, was unable to provide comment for this story by press time.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate are still moving forward with plans to overhaul and update the current law governing higher education.
David Cleary, chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate education committee, said at an Education Writers Association conference Monday that his office would like to get a new Higher Education Act passed by Christmas.
But it’s unlikely the new legislation will include a proposal to sunset the benefit for public servants to have their student loans forgiven.
“With the new leadership on the House side and the elimination of PSLF being something members on both sides of the aisle could not support, I would expect that elimination of PSLF will not be part of the conversation during the reauthorization of (the Higher Education Act),” said Tanya Ang, vice president of Veterans Education Success, an organization that was critical of the PROSPER Act when it was still on the table.
Scott said any new legislation out of his committee would have to be bipartisan, unlike PROSPER.
And when asked about the fate of PSLF in particular, the congressman said, “It’s present law, so if we leave it alone, it’s still there.”
“Public service is something we ought to promote,” he added.
Military Times contributor and former reporter Natalie Gross hosts the Spouse Angle podcast. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.