CLEVELAND — Public servants in Ohio, including teachers, police, firefighters and nurses, often take on the toughest and most important jobs in our communities. This is why it is important to support them in any way possible, especially since COVID has made their work even more difficult. They support us – teach our children, keep our communities safe and care for us when we are sick – so it is time we supported them too.
When it comes to their student debt, unfortunately, we’re not doing enough. Many civil servants, government employees, and people who serve others through nonprofit work have gone into debt to get through college and are now eligible for student loan debt forgiveness. But too often, they are unable to clear the hurdles of registration and take the steps required to get their debt forgiven.
If a borrower is familiar with the program, they must first determine if their loans qualify; whether their employer is eligible; and whether their payments qualify – quite a tricky process to navigate. Once they’ve done that job, they need to make sure their payments are eligible for ten years, especially if they change jobs. The federal government has helped by suspending payment requirements during the pandemic, but ending that pause on August 31 will likely cause more confusion for borrowers. Other changes and waivers add layers of rules.
There literally couldn’t be a more confusing set of terms for managing debt repayment than what borrowers are currently facing. That’s why they need an ally in the process, a “debt navigator”.
College Now Greater Cleveland has been providing this type of counseling to federal student loan borrowers to help them participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) since 2013, saving them $170 million. But our work only scratches the surface for public servants, many of whom are absent and still saddled with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. The Ohio Student Association, a grassroots youth-led organization, knows how important it is to help make education more affordable.
Policymakers in Ohio have the opportunity to help those people who help our communities through proposed legislation now. House Bill 618, introduced in April, would provide debt navigator funding to help our state’s public servants navigate the often confusing process of assessing their eligibility for the PSLF and similar programs and then enroll them in the best options based on their individual circumstances.
For an incredibly modest investment of $200,000, out of a state budget of more than $160 billion over two years, thousands of Ohio residents would get a substantial reduction in their monthly repayment amount, freeing them up in many cases of the overwhelming student loan debt they often have. to pay for past retirement. To give you an idea of what’s possible, College Now customers have an average monthly drop of $400.
Debt navigators are like good accountants who understand the filer’s legal options and how best to access them. Reach out to your state legislature to support the passage of debt navigator legislation, HB 618, to ensure we can help as many Ohioans who have dedicated their careers to helping all Ohioans prosper. It’s the least we can do.
Lee Friedman is CEO of College Now Greater Cleveland, the nation’s oldest college access organization. Kalesha Scott is a student organizer with the Ohio Student Association, a statewide grassroots organization anchored by student-run chapters on college campuses across the state.
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