May 03, 2022

Brown Hosts Listening Session on How Student Loan Debt Undermines the Dignity of Work

Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, hosted a listening session with student loan borrowers from around the country. The borrowers shared their experiences with student loan debt and its impact on their lives, including how crippling student debt undermines the dignity of work.

“Student loan debt is preventing the hard work of a generation of Americans from paying off,” said Senator Brown at this morning’s listening session. “We’re hearing directly from Americans living with this debt – from Montana and Maryland. We have a worker from Georgia and a native Ohioan who currently lives in Virginia. Their situations are all different, but they can all speak to a common experience: how student debt undermines the work they do.”

In addition to today’s listening session, Chairman Brown will hold a Committee hearing on Thursday, May 4th, titled “Examining Student Loan Servicers and Their Impact on Workers.” The hearing will be live streamed at and on YouTube.

Last month, Senator Brown led his colleagues in sending letters to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Department of Education (ED) to request a review of student loan servicers’ reported mismanagement of the IDR program.

Excerpts from each borrower’s statement are included below. Production-quality video is linked.

RaeAnn Pickett, who lives in Virginia and grew up in Ohio, saw her debt balloon in 5 years to more than double its original amount.

“Towards the end of 2016, I lost my job, and my husband and I made the difficult decision to stop payments on my student loans. I have come to terms with the fact that these student loans will always be with me and never be paid off,” said RaeAnn. “This is not what I had planned for my life or expected.” 

Deborah Harburger, from Maryland, is a social worker who was wrongly denied Public Service Loan Forgiveness due to servicer mismanagement.

“In 2017, after completing 10 years of public service, I was stunned to receive a denial, informing me that, while my payments had been on-time and my employment qualified, my particular federal, student loans were not eligible,” said Deborah. “Furthermore, my loan servicers and the Department of Education never once informed me of this problem. Instead, I was now told I could move my loans into a different program and re-start the 10 year and 120-payment clock.”

Emily Robinson, from Georgia, is a teacher. Her student loan debt was recently forgiven thanks to President Biden’s PSLF waiver.

“My jaw dropped open when I saw the $0 balance. $22,346.46 was erased. Overcome with emotion, I started screaming and running around crying in the mailroom downstairs! The moment I’d waited 16 years for had arrived. I was able to start putting a lot more money into my Roth IRA, get serious about retirement, and pay off my credit cards as a result. I also felt acknowledged for my 16 years of public service,” said Emily. “If a person devotes themselves to public service, I think it makes sense to show we attach importance to their life’s work.”

Megan Bailey, from Montana, is a social worker and has never missed a payment – but was still denied PSLF.

“I have never made more than $45,000 a year working in community behavioral health. I owed $177, 526.06 in student loans in 2016, I have worked the whole of my adult life, including having served in the military and live a very modest life,” said Megan. “I worry about the pipeline into the health and behavioral health professions and whether today’s high school students will continue to choose careers in mental health and behavioral healthcare, with such exorbitant tuition, low salaries and difficult working conditions. I cannot imagine encouraging my children to follow in my footsteps.”