Department of Education: ECF Does Not Confirm PSLF

In the American Bar Association (ABA) lawsuit against the Department of Education (ED), we’re seeing some clarity on the ED’s position on the Employment Certification Form (ECF).

The issue is whether the ECF is approval for PSLF purposes. While the ABA argues that the ECF “approved” of the ABA employees and other public interest lawyers for the PSLF program, the ED’s answer on March 23, 2017 denies approval:

“Section heading III is admitted to the extent it alleges that the Department developed and implemented an Employment Certification Form (“ECF”) for borrowers to use to submit evidence of employment with a public service organization for purposes of PSLF. Defendants deny Section heading III to the extent it alleges that the purpose of the form was for borrowers to confirm participation in the PSLF Program” (Page 10, Line 49).

That means the ED views the ECF as a separate, non-final tracking of employment for PSLF, which does not confirm or approve PSLF. This allegation appears to be contradictory, since the ED does issue a response determining employment eligibility after borrowers submit the ECF. Furthermore, the ED also makes the inconsistent statement:

“The first sentence of paragraph 58 is admitted to the extent that it alleges that FedLoan Servicing encourages borrowers who are qualify for the PSLF Program to submit an Employment Certification Form annually” (Page 11, Line 58).

It seems like borrowers who qualify for PSLF are encouraged to submit the ECF (and borrowers wouldn’t know until after the ED responds to the ECF), yet the ED doesn’t want to take that responsibility for issuing that determination. Is it really possible for the ED to separate the ECF determination from any sort of approval for PSLF? If so, what does the ECF mean for a borrower then, but just a tentative and perhaps misleading possibility, for PSLF?

Hold Fast to Dreams agrees with the ABA Executive Director Jack Rives who said, “the ED is suggesting that FedLoan Servicing’s decisions [as to ECF] are meaningless, and that participants in the PSLF program therefore must make payments 10 years before finding out whether the ED will accept their applications. That denies them information they need to make important employment and financial decisions.”

“It’s clear that the Department of Education changed the rules in midstream,” Rives wrote. “That action forces public service employees to gamble with their financial futures and run the risk of being saddled with crushing, interest-enhanced debt.”

We’re happy to at least see the ABA bringing this lawsuit for clarification on the ECF’s role in PSLF. Of all parties to be suing the ED, the ABA is a good tester for these rules. We will keep you updated on this lawsuit.

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