Washington — A little less than a year after it passed legislation to provide Stafford loan forgiveness to public servants, Congress has voted to expand the benefit for public-interest lawyers, early-childhood educators, and several other categories of borrowers.
The new programs, which are buried in a huge bill to renew the Higher Education Act (HR 4137) that awaits President Bush’s signature, would provide loan forgiveness to borrowers who commit to working in a high-need, low-paying field for at least three years.
Public defenders and state and local prosecutors would enjoy the most forgiveness: up to $10,000 a year or $60,000 total. Civil legal-assistance lawyers would get slightly less: up to $6,000 a year, or $40,000 total.
Borrowers employed in several other “high need” occupations would get up to $2,000 a year, or $10,000 total. Among them are early-childhood educators, nurses, foreign-language specialists, librarians, child-welfare workers, speech-language pathologists and audiologists, school counselors, certain public-sector employees, nutrition professionals, medical specialists, mental-health professionals, dentists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. Also covered are employees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics; superintendents, principals, and other school administrators; and “highly qualified” teachers serving low-income or underrepresented students, or those with limited English proficiency.
Last year Congress forgave the remaining debt of borrowers who spend 10 years working for a government or tax-exempt organization and make monthly payments on their loans. In the new bill, lawmakers clarified that members of Congress are ineligible for the program.
Loan-forgiveness programs are designed to help employers recruit and retain employees in shortage areas. —Kelly Field