US Congressman Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, has again partnered with Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican, to pass education-related legislation.
The Civil Service Recognition Act on Civil Service Loan Forgiveness will allow US military personnel to count their full service lives for a student loan forgiveness. Courtney and Johnson also joined forces in late 2020 to pass legislation to protect federal funding for Impact Aid’s education program for communities, including Groton and Ledyard.
In February 2019, Johnson traveled to Connecticut to commission the fast submarine USS South Dakota, which entered service in front of a crowd of about 1,400. Johnson attributes the trip in part to his relationship with Courtney.
“You really get to know members of Congress by traveling together,” Johnson said. “Joe was the gracious host and told me before the trip, ‘This is usually how the program works, here’s what you need to do to be ready – that was the level of coaching, friendship and advice that I don’t.’ I don’t know if Americans understand that this happens as often as in Congress. ”
The new Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Bill aims to correct the US Department of Education’s practice of paying loans to members of the armed forces on active duty. Johnson and Courtney’s working relationship, their time together on the Education and Labor Committee, and the military liaison of their respective states inspired the law.
“I’m optimistic that with Dusty representing a state with a large military presence and my county with the largest military base in New England, we’re going to find a way to bring this to the finish line,” Courtney said.
While they are currently eligible for government loan forgiveness, existing regulations prevent a number of active duty members of the armed forces who have traveled far from their families from using their full period of service for forgiveness, which means they must resort to timely recourse. their service. in order to qualify.
“The problem is, for some unexplained reason, active duty doesn’t always count towards that time frame,” Johnson said.
In 2007, the government service loan forgiveness program law was passed. This allows people who work in their respective positions – for example, nurses, teachers, police, firefighters – to participate in income-based repayment plans that will end with student loan write-offs after 10 years of qualifying service. The new law applies to new groups of military personnel, which usually include active military personnel and members of the National Guard.
Courtney criticized the Department of Education, which makes payments on loans for the program, for not following the spirit of the original law and for not counting loan grace periods at certain times, including rolling up to the 10-year threshold.
“It was really a mess in terms of how the department is implementing the program, and as a result, according to the GAO, the rate of layoffs of military personnel is terribly low,” Courtney said.
The Government Audit Office found that more than 175,000 military personnel can qualify for the program. But between September 2017, when the first borrowers were eligible for loan forgiveness, and through January 2020, of the more than 5,000 Defense Department military and civilians who applied, only 124 military personnel and 163 Defense Department personnel were approved for loan forgiveness. in accordance with the law. PSLF program.
“As of January 2020, Ministry of Education data shows that 287 DOD borrowers received loan forgiveness and 5,180 DOD borrowers (about 94 percent) were refused,” the GAO writes. “The most frequent reasons for refusals were the insufficient number of appropriate payments and the lack of information in the form. GAO previously reported in September 2019, an overall failure rate of 99 percent for all PSLF applications submitted by borrowers. Additional information from the Department of Defense can help potential candidates learn about all eligibility requirements. “
Courtney and Johnson hope their bipartisanship and a similar bipartisan bill in the Senate will encourage fellow legislators to support the measure.
“Joe’s neighborhood is still there – enough knowledge to drop all kinds of guerrilla bombs and make it look like every Republican who has ever lived is a terrible person and still wins in his area,” Johnson said. “But he understands that while this would be normal for his political prospects, it is not normal for his country. He prefers to act as if he looks like a member of the United States House of Representatives. “
Courtney noted that student loans in general are a problem. President Joe Biden announced during his campaign that upon taking office, he will seek to cancel student loans of $ 10,000 per borrower. He has since retracted this statement.
“The Minister of Education was quite careful not to state his position during the confirmation hearing because President Biden was actually quite outspoken about not supporting the full repayment of the $ 50,000 student loan debt,” she said. Courtney. “This is a discussion that we’re going to have at some point in the committee.”