Obama Seeks to Boost Federal Employees' Use of Student Loan Repayment Benefit

President Obama on Thursday instructed federal agencies to do a better job of alerting their employees to options for government-sponsored student loan repayment.

The White House asked the Office of Personnel Management to “coordinate an interagency effort” to give federal workers information on student loan programs available to public service employees. A fact sheet on an array of steps the administration will take to address student debt specifically mentioned four resources for federal employees to reduce their post-education burdens.

“Through the remainder of the administration,” the White House said, “OPM will collaborate with human capital professionals and senior leaders across agencies to develop effective strategies for communicating the options available to the federal workforce.”

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Those efforts will be based on existing initiatives to “recruit and retain a first class federal workforce,” the administration said.

In 2014, federal agencies provided about 8,500 employees with a total of more than $58.7 million in student loan repayment benefits. That is a 15 percent increase in the number of employees who took advantage of the perk from the previous year, and an 11 percent increase in the money doled out.

The federal student loan repayment program permits agencies to repay federally-insured student loans to recruit or retain highly-skilled employees, and its implementation varies widely across government. Agencies have the authority to grant up to $10,000 a year for a total of $60,000 in student loan repayments in return for a promise of three years of service from workers. The money can go to new recruits or current employees.

A select group of agencies disproportionately allocate the benefit; employees at the departments of Defense, Justice, State and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission received 79 percent of the dollars spent on the perk in 2014.

In previous budget plans authored by current House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Republicans have endorsed ending the benefit for federal workers.

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