ABA lawsuit against Department of Education awaits hearing date

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ABA lawsuit against Department of Education awaits hearing date

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The American Bar Association is waiting on a new hearing date in its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education for failing to honor loan forgiveness commitments made through a program for attorneys engaged in public interest law. The hearing scheduled for Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington was postponed.

The ABA’s lawsuit names four individual plaintiffs affected by the federal agency’s decision, all law school graduates with six-figure student loan debt who entered public service with the promise from the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program that if they made timely loan payments for 10 years, their remaining debt would be forgiven.

In its latest court filing, the ABA says the agency’s denial has led the organization to face “serious recruiting and retention problems” due to its revocation as an employer under the loan forgiveness program. One program that has had a particularly hard time recruiting attorneys is the ABA’s ProBAR initiative, which supports direct legal representation of unaccompanied children along the Texas border.

In a motion for summary judgement filed in August, the Department of Education argued no one currently is eligible to apply for the program. The agency claimed it will certify employers and forgo the remaining balance of a borrower’s student loans only if the borrower has made 120 payments after Oct. 1, 2007 while working at a public service organization. Until then, borrowers may check in with the agency periodically to make sure their employer is eligible for the program, but that is not official until the program is around for 10 years, the agency  the agency says in a combined motion for summary judgment and response to the ABA’s motion for summary judgement.

Borrowers are supposed to receive guidance on their eligibility from FedLoan Servicing, a company hired by the government to administer the loan forgiveness program. FedLoan tells the borrower whether his or her employer qualifies under the program. However, in March, the Department of Education distanced itself from FedLoan Servicing, saying it makes decisions on its own and does not speak for the agency.

The case is American Bar Association et al. v. United States Department of Education, 1:16-cv-02476.

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