Troops and veterans would be able to more easily access a key federal loan forgiveness program under bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate on Wednesday.
The proposal centers around the Public Service Loan Forgiveness initiative, which can erase thousands of dollars on certain federal student loans for individuals who work in some public service posts.
Two years ago, Department of Education officials announced they would count time spent in the military towards the public service requirements of the program, making tens of thousands of troops and veterans newly eligible for the benefit. But program administrators have said only a small fraction of those individuals have received the benefit because of confusion surrounding program rules.
Lawmakers said part of the problem has been the lack of data sharing agreements between the Education and Defense Departments, preventing the federal agencies from quickly and easily discerning eligibility for the loan forgiveness.
Their proposal would mandate those arrangements be put in place within a year to enable automatic credit for qualifying troops and veterans.
In a statement, bill sponsor Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said federal workers “should be making it easier for [troops] to get their loans forgiven after serving this country” and lamented that current operations “are keeping too many military members and veterans from accessing benefits they’ve earned.”
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, co-sponsored the measure and echoed that sentiment.
“Streamlining the process to access loan forgiveness will help our military members receive their earned benefits and help them achieve financial freedom,” he said in a statement.
The legislation is backed by multiple veterans groups, including Student Veterans of America and Veterans Education Success. Justin Hauschild, policy counsel with SVA, said he is hopeful the new legislation will jump-start efforts to get troops and veterans better integrated into the program.
Whether the loan forgiveness legislation can make its way through Congress this year is unclear. Lawmakers are scrambling this week to negotiate a budget deal to prevent a partial government shutdown next month. After that, the House and Senate still have full-year appropriations plans for federal agencies and the annual defense authorization bill to finalize before the close of December.
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.