The death of Public Service Loan Forgiveness will affect military families
(Photo: U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Amanda S. Kitchner/Released)

This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of MilSpouseFest.

No one joins for the money.

Military pay is certainly not over the top, even with the built-in housing and health care benefits. Those who join the military instead sign up out of a sense of duty and to serve the greater good.

In 2007, former President George W. Bush signed the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). This program is designed to help those who help others by assisting them to erase outstanding college debt in exchange for a decade of qualifying employment. This means that many teachers, Peace Corps volunteers, and–yes–military troops, can receive assistance with their federal loans and repayments.

Basically, if you agree to work in certain professions after college, you can get some help managing your student loans. And that’s a good thing: Give back to our country, and our country will help you out, too.

A decade has passed since PSLF started, which means that those first qualifying students have submitted their forgiveness claims this fall. Over the last ten years, over 500,000 Americans have taken advantage of this program. This is much more than the D.C. policy wonks originally accounted for and the potential cost of PSLF has snowballed over the last decade.

Now, Republicans are looking at ways to end PSLF.

You’ll find no arguments here that our budget has ballooned rapidly lately. We spend a lot of money annually. Many factors contribute to our growing budget and debt, including wars and natural disasters. Clearly something should and must be done to both reign in spending and find ways to increase the money flowing into our national pockets. . . but removing this bonus for those who are choosing to serve should not be on the table.

The fields that are eligible for PSLF are many, accounting for almost a quarter of our nation’s workforce. But a quarter of the workforce has not signed up for PSLF. Only half a million Americans are trying to claim this benefit.

The professions that can submit their applications for PSLF are service-oriented and may not earn a significant salary: Teachers, rural doctors, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers, social workers, and military troops. No one is getting rich doing these jobs, which makes the often crippling debt carried by individuals doing the work even more financially backbreaking.

There should always be the option to get a little help when you have helped so many. Those who have made the choice to seek higher education–and who then serve our communities–should be able to wipe out some college debt.

Is this system perfect? Certainly not. There could probably be tweaks and changes to really hone in on citizens in the most need, who are unquestionably deserving. There could be more requirements or qualifiers in place.

There is also no question about shirking one’s duty to honorably repay debts owed. That is not the argument here. If you borrow it, you should and must pay it back. Our nation should continue to offer a little help to those who are working for the greater national or local good, to those who serve.

Removing PSLF could also remove incentives for many college students to pursue service oriented careers. Why sacrifice of yourself for the greater good when you could just as easily seek a career that pays exceptionally well? Instead of teachers, social workers, and well-educated troops, we could see a boom in Wall Street brokers and well-heeled lawyers. Why join the military after college for low pay and often thankless work?

Erasing this assistance does not erase the needs of our people or our nation. We still need teachers in classrooms and boots on the ground. We need country doctors and Peace Corps volunteers. We need options to help our very best continue to serve our great nation without crippling themselves in education related debt.

We should take a good hard look at our budget and our national priorities. If we stop giving a hand-up to those who are willing to serve, will anyone still raise their hand to volunteer?

By Meg Flanagan