In 2007, the first Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was introduced. Created with much promise, this federal program has failed to deliver on multiple fronts. We want to focus specifically on the latest effort to help social workers with the impossible to reach criteria and very little understanding of what social workers face on a day to day basis.
Social workers are underpaid and most programs are severely understaffed or have a higher than average churn rate which puts even more responsibilities on those who stay the path. A commitment of up to 10 years of overworked/understaffed and underpaid work for the possibility of forgiveness is a huge ask. The first 10 years after graduation (undergrad or graduate school) an individual experiences a lot of major life changes and with around-the-clock work, high student loan payments, and low pay, what are we really asking of Social Workers? Those individuals who support members of society through some of the most challenging moments of their lives are really tasked with this huge burden. It’s the kind of financial burden that affects not just a single person but many. The effects of this burden can put families in a financial crisis.
It’s also worth noting that within the current program; a high percentage of applications are denied. With the global pandemic, it became undeniably clear how essential frontline workers and social workers are to our society. It has also become even more clear how undervalued and overworked social workers are, what pressures fall on their shoulders in a state of emergency and how high the expectations are. Whether its healthcare, elder care, legal support and services, or educational institutions such as Head Start Programs, each is staffed or supported by social workers.
Officials worry that without the promise of a loan forgiveness program, employers will have a difficult time attracting qualified individuals. This is a substantiated concern. Education is necessary in this field and not optional. But, it shouldn’t come at the cost of sacrificing the well-being of your family, a roof over your head and food on the table. Congressman Sarbanes signed the bill for PSLF hoping the program would offer graduates the financial freedom to freely pursue their careers. There are several breakages to the Student Loan Forgiveness efforts and much of it stems from the student-loan company who effectively lied to their borrowers in that the loan they’re paying for isn’t eligible for the program. So, imagine spending thousands each year only to find out it’s not eligible years later when all the while, you are under the impression it is? Frustrating to say the least. Fast forward to October 6th. The Dept of Education is launching an “overhaul” program that is set to correct these gaps and issues to ensure borrowers are considered more fairly in the loan forgiveness efforts. For those in the public service sector, this is the beginning to the path out of the mountain of debt.
Did we mention if you don’t pay your portion of the loan on time every month, that could also disqualify you from the program? Imagine this- you graduate with $60,000 in debt only to find entry level, MSW required jobs, to be paying $26 an hour, about $3,200 per month after taxes. With rent, utilities, other bills, and loan repayment, most graduates have $500-$700 dollars left over to take care of everything else in their lives. The loan interest rates will ensure the student to pay at least $300-$500 per month, sometimes more. By the end of their repayment period for their loan forgiveness program, most graduates will pay a minimum of $50,000 - $60,000…. where is the deal here? Where and when do social work graduates get relief? 10 years after graduation, and their loan cost multiple times more than at its origin?
Illuminating these discrepancies and the issues in practical application for these policies allows us to begin curating solutions that actually support the intended population. We encourage the governing bodies making these decisions to include social workers from all backgrounds into the conversation, policy creation, and application. Most importantly, we desire to see the evaluation of these programs conducted in a more timely and effective manner. Until then, we will be hard at work changing the narrative around the value of social workers and our services.
Update: If your application was previously rejected resubmit it for review before October 2022.