Campaign to reduce student loan debt

Community Organizing Financial Justice

New Orleans When I was in Columbus, Ohio a couple of weeks ago, I was stunned when an organizing colleague, Barbara Clark, told me that 75% of the 300 or so tax returns she had helped do at a VITA site at the Neighborhood House had student loan debts that were severe enough in some cases to divert their tax refunds directly to the lenders.  I had been even more shocked not long ago to find out that student loans can be deducted from social security payments of all things.  From the stories that Barbara shared, these were not young folks just out of school but often men and women in their late 40’s and 50’s who were being crushed by student loans.   There’s a campaign out there waiting to be organized.

A Wall Street Journal article yesterday gave some broad hints about some new provisions that have been enacted to provide some debt relief, and quoted a number of sources tearing their hair that information is not getting there to people so that they can access and take advantage of these breaks.  Hello, campaign calling!

In 2007 Congress passed a Act that allowed people in “public service”  jobs to get debt relief or forgiveness after ten years of working in such public service.  Looking it up this morning, it turns out that qualifying jobs are anything with the government or with employment by a 501c3 tax exempt non-profit organization.   The student loans need to be federal loans like Sallie Mae and the like, rather than something owed to the college or a bank obviously.  Last year in the middle of the meltdown, Congress extended the application of these forgiveness and write down provisions to include folks whose income was less than the level of their loan (ie, if you owe $50 grand and are only making $30000), which would mandate a maximum loan level.   The cap on payments is between 10 and 15% of your income and after 25 years any remaining principal and interest is written off.  That’s for everyone now.

Of course there are a lot of bells and whistles, details and drumbeats, but you get the picture.  There’s some “rules and rights” embedded here, and people are not getting them.  Perfect organizing opportunity for advocates and actions!

We need to go old school organizing and start making out a form!