“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for immediate action,” the unions wrote in a letter to Cardona shared with POLITICO. “Public service workers who should have benefited from the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program are at the forefront of our pandemic response – caring for patients, educating our students, and providing vital services to communities across the world Country. ”
The letter was chaired by the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the country, and signed by 14 other unions that together represent more than 10 million civil servants. This includes the American Federation of Government Employees; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; International Federation of Firefighters; United Auto Workers; and Service Employees International Union.
Democrats have for years raised concerns about the difficulty public sector workers have faced in managing the federal government’s public loan program. They sharply criticized Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ oversight of the program that the Trump administration had proposed to remove.
“After four years of scandal and allegations of widespread mismanagement, it is clear to our organizations that the federal government has fundamentally failed to keep this promise,” the unions wrote in a letter to Cardona on Thursday.
During the campaign, President Joe Biden promised to set the public service loan program and supported laws that would expand the benefits.
Now the unions are urging the Biden government to go further and use executive action to quickly provide automatic assistance to public service workers. The letter said that during the pandemic, the education department should use its emergency powers to waive any regulation or law required to conduct the lending process.
But Biden was skeptical of the idea of using executive powers to unilaterally write off debt on federal student loans. Earlier this year, Biden said he would not take any executive action to reduce $ 50,000 in debt per borrower, as many progressives and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urge him to do.
The White House has said the president has not ruled out some sort of executive action to cancel the student loan debt and its advisors are looking into the issue.
The Biden government last week announced a series of “targeted” reliefs for federal borrowers, despite consumer advocates criticizing the policy for being far too narrow.
Education canceled the debts of some students scammed by their nonprofit college and waived some of the paperwork requirements to make it easier for borrowers with severe disabilities to obtain loans. In addition, earlier this week the department stopped collecting more than 1 million borrowers who had defaulted on government-guaranteed student loans from private companies.