“By forgiving such a wide swath of loans for borrowers, you are removing any leverage the Department of Defense maintained as one of the fastest and easiest ways to pay for higher education,” the congressmen wrote in a letter to the White House on Thursday.
“As the services try to adopt unique approaches to tackle their recruiting challenges, including historic bonuses, it feels like their legs are being cut out from underneath them.”
Last month, Biden announced plans to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for millions of borrowers “to provide more breathing room to America’s working families.” The loan forgiveness plan applies to individuals earning less than $125,000 a year or families earning less than $250,000.
The move was generally hailed by Democratic leaders and panned by Republicans, who labeled the decision an unfair handout of taxpayer money. The latest complaint focuses on the military, which has faced significant recruiting challenges this year amid a wealth of private-sector job openings.
Republican letter signers (which include several military veterans) are requesting the White House provide information on whether those military recruiting issues were considered before the loan forgiveness plan was considered, and how the White House plans to respond to “the loss of those who might join the military to help pay off student loans.”
Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, in a statement connected to the letter release said that the loan forgiveness decision represents a significant challenge for Defense Department leaders.
“Military recruitment is hard enough … I fear what may come next,” said Fallon, an Air Force veteran. “The armed services have often used educational benefits as a top incentive in the recruitment process, and now that is gone.”
The Post-9/11 GI Bill — the most widely known and widely used military education benefit — provides 36 months of in-state tuition and monthly housing stipends to individuals who serve at least three years on active duty. Troops who serve six or more years can transfer those benefits to eligible family members.
Veterans or family members who attend private school can get almost $27,000 in tuition costs covered each year. Combined with the housing and other stipends, the total value of the GI Bill benefit often exceeds $150,000.
“For decades, hundreds of thousands of young Americans have made the courageous decision to serve in uniform based on the promise of a college education,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. and another Air Force veteran, said in a statement related to the letter.
“I’m very concerned that the deeply flawed and unfair policy of blanket student loan forgiveness will also weaken our most powerful recruiting tool at the precise moment we are experiencing a crisis in military recruiting.”
Army officials have announced they do not expect to meet their active duty recruiting goals this year, while leaders from the Navy, Air Force and Marines have said they expect to narrowly meet their targets. Only officials from the Space Force — which has the fewest total personnel of any service — have reported little trouble with reaching recruiting goals.
Earlier this year, Army recruiting leaders announced a new student loan repayment incentive for would-be recruits of up to $65,000. That program applies to both active-duty and reserve recruits.
It’s not clear yet how many new troops who signed up for loan repayment incentives may be able to shed their service commitments due to the loan forgiveness, either.
Army spokesperson Hank Minitrez told Military Times that soldiers whose loan balances hit zero before any loan repayment money is paid from the military to their loan servicer “may submit a request to the Army Review Board Agency’s Army Board for Correction of Military Records and request the program’s service commitment be waived.”
Those who already have received military payments towards their loans are out of luck, though, and Minitrez explained that excess payments won’t go into troops’ pockets even if their balance decreases due to the Biden administration’s debt cancellation.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.