Chasing a dream, hampered by debts

She found a computer job with the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board. There, as she did in every job she got the chance, she joined her union.

“The first thing I do is sign my union card,” Morand said. “Without the labor movement, we wouldn’t have the middle class we have. Without unions, we would not have the benefits we enjoy. I’ve always wanted to make sure those benefits aren’t eroded.

In 1999, Morand returned to school for her master’s degree in information systems engineering at NYU-Polytechnic School of Engineering, which led to a job with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and a AFSCME District Council membership 37.

At FDNY headquarters, Morand would put his graduate education to good use, handling everything from networking and database administration to business analysis, project management and more.

And she felt honored to work for the fire department. “You are serving your community. You are helping to save the lives and property of the citizens of New York,” she said. She would even become president of Local 2627, which represents New York City’s IT staff.

While Morand had begun to achieve the American dream — she was earning a living wage, quitting the projects, having another child, and even buying a house — she remained plagued by student loans.

“When I took loans, I saw it as a way to support my children. But it was very hard to pay,” Morand said. “I figured I would pay for the rest of my life.”

Thanks to the DC 37, Morand was able to receive free legal advice and was able to consolidate and obtain forbearance on his loans. DC 37 also held workshops on enrolling in the Federal Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which was created to encourage workers to enter the civil service.

Established in 2007, the program has encouraged graduates to seek public service jobs. After working full-time in a skilled job in the public sector and making 120 loan repayments, the borrower’s loans would be forgiven.

Morand signed up for the program.

A way out

Last year, Morand heard of a significant change in the PSLF program – a change that AFSCME fought for.

President Joe Biden has issued a temporary waiver (running until October 31, 2022) that counts all federal student loan payments toward the PSLF, regardless of loan program or repayment plan. Previously, the PSLF had been mired in trouble, with only a tiny fraction of borrowers seeing loan forgiveness.

Morand reviewed the waiver.

“When I logged into Fedloans, my loan manager, I saw that there was a one-year program, from October 2021 to October 2022, where you can apply for a discount. I applied all I took a chance because I knew I had been paying for over 10 years,” Morand said.

Around the second week of January, Morand received an urgent notification through his loan officer.

“They posted a letter on my account. I received an email from Fedloans saying action was needed,” Morand said. “I log in and there’s a new letter right there that says ‘Congratulations.’ Two of my loans have been cancelled.

Nearly $200,000 in loans had been written off. Morand is one of 70,000 borrowers the waiver has helped.

“I’m so grateful,” Morand says — for the waiver, for the work her union did to make it happen, and for helping her navigate the process. “Ten years ago it was very difficult. When I was raising my children, I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. Now we can have more freedom and be comfortable. All those years of suffering seem to be paying off. I feel almost 200,000 pounds lighter.