Being a public servant requires passion and dedication. Those of us who have chosen that career path know it has its challenges, just like any job, but the core mission is what draws us to this work. Whether you work for a government agency or a nonprofit, serving your community is what drives you.
Now there’s a government program that gives back to those who give so much — the Public Service Loan Forgiveness or PSLF program for student debt. But workers need to apply asap because the deadline is Oct. 31.
I was drawn to become a prosecutor because I, too, wanted to serve my community. For me that required a college and law school degree. I acquired a mortgage-sized amount of debt during the seven years of my education, and it weighed on me every month when I paid my bills. Working as a lawyer in the public sector provides a salary far lower than my colleagues in the private sector. When I learned that I had first became eligible for the government’s student debt loan forgiveness program in 2017, I applied.
Unfortunately, even though I met all the requirements, like having served as a state employee for more than 10 years and making ten years of monthly payments, I was rejected because my loans were not the “right” kind of loans. To say that I was heartbroken that this program did not assist me is an understatement. Then I learned that only one to two percent of applicants were awarded the debt cancellation because of the very hyper technical requirements. I wasn’t alone but I had to accept that this debt was going to be a part of my life forever.
Fast forward to 2021. Connecticut’s own U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona acknowledged that the program was not living up to its promise and committed to fixing, expanding and simplifying the process for public servants like me. He instituted a waiver that said if you apply now, all those hyper technical issues would go away. That waiver expires on Oct. 31.
In the fall of 2021, I reapplied and in the spring of this year, my entire remaining balance from college and law school was discharged. For me that was in excess of $60,000, or about $500 per month. I was overjoyed. Now I can put that money toward my retirement savings or help out my elderly parents who are on a limited and fixed income.
The beauty of this program is that it really incentivizes people who want to serve their community by working in public service. If you make the commitment to serve your community, your government promises to make that easier by canceling your student loan debt. As a result, we can attract exceptional candidates to work in these vital and crucial positions in state government and nonprofits.
This program was truly a gift and altered my life for better. I hope other public servants take advantage of the waiver before it expires at the end of October. (Here’s the Connecticut site for getting started. ) It could change their life, too.
Melissa Streeto is an Assistant State Attorney, President of the Connecticut Association of Prosecutors and a member of SEBAC.