Biden administration expands student loan forgiveness eligibility

FILE PHOTO: Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss reopening schools during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Washington
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Biden administration on Wednesday announced changes to the federal student loan forgiveness program that would allow thousands more public sector workers, including members of the military, to seek a reprieve on their educational debts.

The new policies outlined by the U.S. Department of Education would affect an estimated 550,000 borrowers and give them an extra two years of progress toward forgiveness, officials said in a statement, outlining changes that run through Oct. 31, 2022.

"Teachers, nurses, first responders, service members, and so many public service workers have had our back especially amid the challenges of the pandemic," U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said.

Such public servants, he said, should be able to seek loan forgiveness. "The system has not delivered on that promise to date, but that is about to change for many borrowers who have served their communities and their country," Cardona said.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) aims to allow such workers to apply to have their student loans canceled after 10 years of public work and consistent payments, though borrowers must apply and many face roadblocks or restrictions.

Wednesday's announced overhaul aims to simplify the application process and review previous applications that had been denied or faced processing errors, paving the way for more borrowers to get relief, the department said.

It also allows 22,000 borrowers with previously ineligible "consolidated" loans to use the program, it said, adding another 27,000 borrowers could also qualify for the program if they certify certain work histories.

The National Education Association, an education union representing 3 million teachers and other workers who could benefit from program, praised the changes. "This is a welcome step towards keeping the promise of PSLF and canceling the student debt of every educator who has served their commitment to their communities," it said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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