As the nation’s attention is squarely focused on the Donald Trump–Russia investigations, it seems like the rest of the administration is trying to get away with destroying as many government programs as it can without people noticing. Enter the Cruella De Vil of the education system, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos has already made quick work, getting rid of Obama-era protections for student-loan borrowers, but she wasn’t content to just stop there. No, DeVos, a woman who admitted to having no personal experience with loans of pretty much any kind, is doing her damnedest to make sure you struggle to pay back your college loans.
As part of its plan to slash the Department of Education’s budget by some $10.6 billion, the Washington Post reports that the White House will propose ending the federal student loan forgiveness program for public sector and nonprofit workers, and lengthen the amount of time Americans will have to spend repaying their debts on income-based plans if they borrowed to get an advanced degree.
As it stands right now, if you work for the government or a nonprofit for 10 years, you can have your student loans forgiven.The program was created in 2007 in order to encourage more Americans to go into public service, but has become more controversial as some have criticized it as a back-door subsidy for expensive graduate degrees—the people who have signed up for so far tend to have high loan balances more typical of someone who went on to get a master’s or a J.D. rather than a mere bachelor’s. In 2015, the Obama administration proposed capping the amount of debt that could be forgiven at the federal loan limit for undergraduates, or $57,500. Under this new budget, that will disappear entirely.
But that’s not all: The new plan also will make changes to the income-based repayment system. The current system requires that people who borrowed for undergraduate degrees spend 10 percent of their disposable income on their loans for 20 years to have the balance forgiven, and for 25 years for a graduate degree. The new plan will up that 10 percent to 12.5 percent, but shorten the time down to 15 years for undergrads. It will lengthen the time for grad students to 30 years.
So people who planned their financial lives around this program may not need to hyperventilate. And it’s possible Trump or Congress might explicitly look to grandfather in current debtors, if only to avoid a lawsuit.
With all of that said, this still reads like a sick joke. A billionaire president and billionaire education secretary, neither of whom spent a single day of their lives in public service before stumbling their way into positions of immense power, are targeting a program that’s basically meant to make life in underpaid government work a little more tenable. And don’t talk to me about budget savings when this same administration is currently planning a historic tax cut for the rich. If you’re even going to talk about fixing the budget, maybe try balancing it on the back of hedge funders first before sticking it to public defenders.