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President's Perspective

A way to ease the burden of student debt

New York Teacher

We asked, and you told us loud and clear: The burden of student debt is one of your most pressing concerns. It affects more than 42,000 UFT members throughout the city. It’s not just a problem for teachers starting out in the profession. Some of our members nearing retirement are still struggling to pay off their student loans.

Student loan debt now exceeds $1.5 trillion nationally, and the average college graduate carries $40,000 in debt. Debt forces many people to postpone buying a car or a home or even starting a family. Some 44 million people across the United States are shouldering debt they took on to complete or further their post-secondary education.

We listened to your concerns and are now offering participation in the Student Debt Relief Program for UFT members only. The program, which launched in November 2018, is necessary for many reasons. The public service loan forgiveness program, established by the federal government in 2007, was designed as an incentive for people to work in public sector jobs and is supposed to offer loan forgiveness, after 10 years of payments, to teachers, nurses, social workers and others employed by governmental or nonprofit public service agencies who had taken out federal loans. But for a variety of reasons, very few people have had their loans forgiven by the program.

Making matters worse, for-profit student loan servicing companies often do not inform borrowers employed in public service jobs about this program. It should come as no surprise that Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s education secretary, has defended these predatory companies. The American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s national union, filed a class-action lawsuit in 2018 against Navient, one of the country’s largest administrators of federal student loans, accusing the company of steering borrowers in public service professions away from public service debt relief so it could continue to collect millions of dollars in fees.

The first step to participate in the program is to sign up for an information session, which is hosted by the UFT and the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center, our partner in this effort. Sign up for an upcoming session »

At that information session, a representative from the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center will carefully explain the federal public service loan forgiveness program and the federal Title I forgiveness program, for those working in Title I schools. At the end of the session, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions.

After you attend the session, you’ll receive an email from the union asking you to make a phone appointment with a UFT representative who will walk you through how to access and download your loan history through the federal student aid database website. You must be in front of a computer during that call.

Once that step is completed, you’ll be transferred to a National Student Debt Forgiveness Center representative, who will review your loan information, help you determine what programs you are eligible for and discuss your options with you. Even if you have a private loan, and not a federal one, there may be steps you can take to help reduce your debt so it’s worth having that conversation with a loan specialist to discuss your options. There is no obligation; both the phone consultation and the action plan are free.

You have a few choices at that point. If you’re comfortable doing your taxes, you might opt to take it from there and fill out the forms on your own. You may also opt to work with the National Student Debt Forgiveness Center, which offers a variety of services for UFT members at discounted rates.

Hundreds of UFT members have participated in the program so far, and many are already seeing results, including reduced monthly payments. One UFT member worked with the center to reduce her student loan payments from more than $700 a month over 30 years to $192 a month over 10 years.

We started with a small pilot in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but we are building capacity. Information sessions in March in each of the UFT’s five borough offices are full, but more will be offered in April, May and June.

We encourage you to avail yourself of this opportunity to possibly reduce your loan payments. Offering participation in this program is one of the ways that the UFT helps you, our members, so you can concentrate on the important work you do in New York City public schools.