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Higher Education Opportunity Act Passes Federal Defenders Now Eligible for Student Loan Forgiveness
Provisions to enhance the recruitment and retention of well-qualified attorneys to serve the public as federal defenders are included in a bill recently signed into law by the President. H.R. 4137, the “Higher Education Opportunity Act,” became Pub. L. No. 110-315 on August 14, 2008, with a provision extending to federal defenders the ability to participate in the cancellation of Perkins student loans. The Judicial Conference proposed the provision.
“I am pleased that federal defender attorneys will now have the same access to forgiveness of Federal Perkins Student Loans as their United States Attorney counterparts,” said Judge John Gleeson (E.D. NY), chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services. “Parity in benefits reflects the importance of the work performed in defender offices and will assist in recruiting and retaining qualified and diversified personnel.”
The Federal Perkins Loan Program provides low-interest loans to help needy students finance the costs of postsecondary education. Borrowers who undertake certain law enforcement or corrections, military, or teaching service are eligible to have all or part of their loans canceled. Under that employment criteria, the Department of Education had included prosecutors but not federal defenders. The new law provides parity for federal defenders with federal prosecutors in their ability to have Perkins student loans cancelled over a five-year period.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act also contains a student loan repayment program for federal defenders, as well as for prosecutors and other defenders.