Firefighters Among Those to Receive Student Debt Forgiveness

March 21, 2024
The Biden administration announced $5.8 billion in additional loan relief for firefighters, nurses and other public servants.

Bill Schackner

The Tribune-Review, Greensburg


Mar. 21—The Biden administration on Thursday announced $5.8 billion in additional student loan relief for those working as firefighters, nurses and various other public service jobs in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

The latest batch of canceled debt applies to 77,700 borrowers. It stems from fixes made by the administration to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

In all, total student debt forgiveness approved by the administration has reached more than $143 billion, officials said. That covers almost 4 million Americans.

The number of borrowers able to take advantage of the program is approximately 100 times greater than it was prior to 2021, said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

"For too long, our nation's teachers, nurses, social workers, firefighters, and other public servants faced logistical troubles and trap doors when they tried to access the debt relief they were entitled to under the law," Cardona said in a statement accompanying Thursday's announcement.

" The Biden-Harris Administration is showing how we're taking further steps not only to fix those trap doors, but also to expand opportunity to many more Americans," he added.

A breakdown by state of Thursday's announced relief was not available, but overall, Pennsylvania ranks sixth for debt reduction in the program, with approximately 38,300 borrowers sharing in $2.7 billion in canceled loans, according to data from the Education Department.

Nine months ago, the Supreme Court nullified a broader loan forgiveness program put forth by Biden. The justices ruled that he lacked constitutional authority to enact it.

So in the months since, the president has used executive authority to provide more targeted relief — by easing or eliminating amounts owed to a debt system he has called broken.

The administration's efforts to eliminate debt, while popular with those burdened by it, has also drawn sharp criticism from his opponents. It has become a prominent part of his reelection message.

Opponents frame it as a matter of personal responsibility, that students should work off their debts and that forgiveness unfairly burdens taxpayers.

Backers of Biden's efforts say college prices have skyrocketed in recent decades. Debts that often stretch well beyond $100,000 delay home purchases and other spending by college graduates. They argue that it weakens the economy.

Pennsylvania student debt on average ranks among the nation's highest, groups have found in recent years. For example, student debt totals averaging $39,375 in Pennsylvania trailed only levels in New Hampshire and Delaware, according to one analysis from the Institute for College Access and Success.

Officials said that prior to fixes to the program, about 7,000 borrowers had seen their loans forgiven.

" The Biden-Harris Administration is proud to provide relief for another 77,700 borrowers who have given back to their communities through public service," said Education Department Undersecretary James Kvaal. "We hope this relief provides borrowers and their families some much needed breathing room."

Thursday's announcement also noted that Biden will email an additional 380,000 public service workers thanking them for their service and informing them they are on track to have their debt canceled through the program within two years.

Bill Schackner is a TribLive reporter covering higher education. Raised in New England, he joined the Trib in 2022 after 29 years at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team. Previously, he has written for newspapers in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. He can be reached at [email protected].


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