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Forgiving school debt for public service

Social_work How do you pay off school debts if you enter jobs in public service? Supposing you are a lawyer who becomes a legal aide lawyer making $34,000.00 per year and has over $100,000.00 in school debt, or a Social Worker making $27,000.00 per year and has thousands of dollars in school debt.

Marc Parry wrote a good story about this problem in the February 11, 2008 Albany NY Times Union. Here is part of his story:

Five years out of Albany Law School, Jennifer Monthie works at a chipped desk in a third-floor office whose window lets in the smell of burgers from McGeary's Pub downstairs. BlackBerry? She's lucky to have an extra chair. Six figures? Her job at a nonprofit organization that advocates for the disabled started at $34,000. Student loan debt? That, she has -- $103,749 worth. "It's a cold reality when you exit school," Monthie said. A change in federal law may ease the sting of student debt for public-spirited folks like Monthie. Under a new program passed as part of last year's College Cost Reduction and Access Act, the federal government would forgive loans for some people who stay in public-service jobs -- such as schools, charities and government -- for 10 years. Washington is still working out the details, but in a local economy with so many public-sector jobs, the program could help many. That's the good news. The bad news is you'll have to wait years to benefit. You can only qualify to have the balance of your loan canceled after making 120 monthly payments on an eligible Federal Direct Loan -- and only payments after Oct. 1, 2007, count. Which means you may have paid off your debt by the time you hit the 10-year mark.

It would seem that our society would have an interest in helping its members become prepared not just to make big bucks providing services for the rich, but also to assure a just and healthy society by being of service to the least among us. Parry writes a little further:

College of Saint Rose junior Ellen Donaghey is just as enthusiastic about her own public service -- service that's included working on behalf of tenants and people suffering from AIDs.

Donaghey already has over $11,000 in loans. The 20-year-old social-work major from Putnam County expects to rack up a lot more debt by the time she finishes graduates school. Her parents took out loans for her education, too.

A social worker's average starting salary was $27,163 in 2005, according to the study on debt and public service.

"It's always a thought in my mind -- how am I going to make all of this work?" she said. "But at the same time, my passion is more important to me. And if that means I'm not making the big bucks, I don't live in the big house with the white picket fence -- that's OK."

As a society we have a vested interest in forgiving school debt for people dedicating themselves to public service at low salaries. Encourage your lawmakers to support such legislation and programs

Link: Albany, N.Y.: Timesunion.com - Print Story.

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