Is Congress Exempted From Student Loan Repayments?

The Biden administration announced changes on April 19, 2022 that would result in immediate debt relief for about 40,000 borrowers.

The Public Service Forgiveness Program eliminates the debt of government employees and nonprofit organizations who have accumulated at least 10 years of qualifying payments.

However, recent posts on social media claim that there are also provisions exempting family members of congressmen and congressional employees from having to pay off student loans in the first place.

The claim is often framed around the broader student debt relief debate, which has become a major divisive issue about America’s political and generational differences

Supporters of The Debt Collective gather at the US Department of Education to demand full student debt relief on April 4, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for MoveOn & Debt Collective

The claim

The demand, which has been viewed nearly 300,000 times on social media platform Telegram, says that both children and family members of congressional workers should not have to pay back their college loans.

It was shared on other Telegram channels including The Daily Expose.

The post said, in part, “Members of Congress do not have to pay off their college student loans.”

“Employees of Congressional family members are also exempt from student loan repayments.”

The facts

This claim has been shared since at least 2010. Previous iterations of the claim have been refuted by other fact-checkers.

In 2011, the US Department of Education told reporters that there are no such provisions under Title IV of state student assistance programs, which provide loans to congressmen and families of congressional employees.

answer to news week‘s request for comment, the Department of Education confirmed that federal employees are not exempt from paying their student debt.

“The U.S. Department of Education requires all federal student loan borrowers to repay their loans and all accrued interest and fees,” the department official wrote in an email.

The misleading claim surfaced again when the US Department of Education announced its extension of student debt relief to thousands of government employees.

“Federal student loans offer flexible repayment schedules, loan consolidation, forgiveness programs and more, which can be found at StudentAid.gov,” the email reads.

On April 19, the agency announced that its Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program will be expanded to qualify 40,000 workers for immediate debt relief. Several thousand other borrowers with older loans will also be forgiven, in addition to “at least three years of additional credit for IDR forgiveness” for another 3.6 million people.

The PSLF allows employees of U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal governments or non-profit organizations to request cancellation of the balance of direct loans after making 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer.

The program, created 15 years ago, had only granted a waiver to a small proportion of applicants by 2021. In March 2022, the Department of Education announced that it had identified 100,000 borrowers eligible for $6.2 billion in student debt relief.

Government portfolio reporting from September 20, 2020 to February 28, 2022 shows that the government has disbursed $7.1 billion in PSLF and related waivers, averaging approximately $70,883 per borrower.

The Biden administration has recently come under pressure from within the Democratic Party to expand student loan debt relief to avoid losses in the upcoming midterm elections in November.

Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren writes That New York Times Earlier this week, he identified the policy among a range of changes the government should consider in an article titled “Democrats can avoid disaster in November.”

In addition to PSLF, provisions of the Federal Student Loan Repayment Program state that agencies “may repay federally insured student loans as an incentive to hire or retain candidates or current agency employees.”

The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) states that employees are eligible for relief under this program of up to $10,000 per calendar year, up to a total of $60,000 per employee. In order to qualify, however, employees must “remain in the service of the paying agency for at least 3 years”.

According to the most recent publicly available report to Congress on the Federal Student Loan Repayment Program, 10,412 employees from 34 agencies received repayments totaling $78.7 million in 2018.

The regulation

Fact Check - False

NOT CORRECT.

The claim is wrong. Families of congressmen and congress workers have to pay student loans. It’s true that payback plans are available for federal employees in general, not just those in Congress. However, these support measures are subject to conditions that require employees to have already made debt service contributions and/or had worked in federal service for several years.

NEWSWEEK FACT CHECK

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