Dear Mr. President,
I never thought I would be at odds with a president I voted for twice over a program started by George W. Bush, but that is where I find myself now. George Bush's administration created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which stipulates that after 120 qualifying payments, borrowers who dedicate themselves to careers in public service (i.e. lower paying public sector jobs) would have the balance of their student loan debt forgiven. "Hallelujah," I thought. Relief was possible. You see, I was saddled with student loan debt that had doubled in size (to $200,000) due to the usurious Sallie Mae Corp.
In 2007, I switched careers and entered the teaching profession: special education to be exact. I now work with students with autism. It is a very rewarding job, and a very challenging one. Despite the fact that teaching is not known as a financially well-compensated profession, I felt secure in the knowledge that the PSLF Act would remove the burden of my loans in time for me to really start helping my aging parents. Since then, I have planned my life and made career decisions based on the PSLF Program.
Imagine my surprise and dismay when I find out that your administration is proposing to cap the forgiveness amount at $57,000 as part of the 2015 budget. The argument is that the current level of debt "forgiveness" is unsustainable. How about we acknowledge that Wall Street in its current form is unsustainable? Wall Street bonuses continue to climb, banks get ridiculously low interests rates from government bailout loans and the people who were responsible for the meltdown go unpunished for fear that doing so may harm companies and hurt the economy. Indebted public servants, an indentured constituency that really can do nothing to further your agenda, are being thrown under the bus. Affording students and public servants with a fraction of the consideration you had for your friends on Wall Street would not only cost a lot less, but it would also be congruent with the pro-public service message that you campaigned on.
Unlike the banks that you so generously bailed out, I am actually DOING something to help others. Without the PSLF Program in its current form, I will have to leave my current profession in public service and find something more lucrative OUTSIDE of public service to pay off my debt. My principal of my loan is rising daily, and I cannot afford to help others while I sink deeper into debt myself.
I was not irresponsible. I received degrees from Harvard (undergrad) and NYU (grad). I listened to the mantra of, "work hard, go to school and you will succeed." I did not foresee Sallie Mae defaulting on my loans due to residency issues (and doubling my debt) while I was teaching oversees, despite my submitting the paperwork they requested. My parents are immigrants, without a college education. They never warned me that I was setting myself up for failure as NYU kept encouraging me to take out massive loans to finish my education, insisting that doing so was "customary" despite my misgivings. Interestingly, in 2007, NYU was implicated in scandal surrounding its cozy arrangement with student loan companies. The mistakes I made in my early 20's haunt me to this day, two decades later. NYU and Wall Street's transgressions are brushed under the rug.
Hope? Without the PSLF Program in its present form, my hope is dead. And it will be so for many other people who are also depending on this program, and who owe even more than I do. Many people (doctors, public defenders, teachers, social workers, veterinarians) decided to go to graduate school because of this program. Even more people benefit from the services we provide because of this program. We are working for our loan "forgiveness." We are providing a PUBLIC SERVICE. You are doing us no favors, especially now.
I was proud the day you were sworn in. I thought, "finally, a president who will represent me." You do not represent me, Mr. President. That is obvious. You do not represent public servants. You do not represent students. I will tell you who you do represent. You represent Wall Street. You represent the banks. You represent multi-millionaires. You represent yourself.
Beware, M. President. People without hope have nothing to look forward to. People with nothing to look forward to can be dangerous. Look what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya... Need I go on? Even your most ardent supporters can now see that the emperor has no clothes.
(A former supporter)