Crucial state legislation
In a major victory for the union and its adjunct members, both chambers of the New York State Legislature passed a PSC-backed bill that paves the way for more adjuncts to receive some student debt forgiveness. The bill still requires Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature in order to be enacted into law.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) “requires that public servants work 30 hours a week in order to be eligible for loan forgiveness,” said PSC Legislative Representative Luke Elliott-Negri, who added that “the bill that the legislature just passed counts 3.35 hours for every one classroom hour worked by part-time faculty, thus making part-timers effectively full-timers from the point of view of the federal government.”
State Senator Kevin Thomas and State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein were the chief authors of the bill that further clarifies the requirements for public employment, and thus improves upon Biden administration changes to the PSLF Program. PSC, the United University Professions (UUP), the union representing faculty and staff at SUNY, as well as the PSC’s state affiliate, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), all supported the bill.
“I was personally moved to get active on this bill when I saw PSC Brooklyn College Chapter Chair Carolina Bank Muñoz post on Facebook that the new Biden PSLF changes had enabled her to eliminate all of her student debt,” Elliott-Negri said. “I was so happy for her, and it also struck me that in order for long-serving adjunct members to be able to make such a post on Facebook, we’d need to pass this bill.”
While Bank Muñoz is a full-time faculty member at CUNY, many CUNY adjuncts did not meet the PSLF 30-hour a week requirement before the passage of the new bill.
Rebecca Smart, the PSC part-time liaison at Baruch College, traveled to Albany to push lawmakers to pass the bill. “My understanding is that without this [bill], we don’t qualify because we’re part-time,” she said speaking for herself and fellow adjuncts.
Organizing by PSC staff and member leaders like Smart helped move the bill along and made sure it was at the front of legislators’ attention in this crowded season. It was frequently the case that legislators intuitively agreed with the premise of the bill.
“I didn’t really have to campaign,” Smart recalled of her meetings with state lawmakers, noting that the bill had widespread support, even from Republicans.
Smart added that she would personally benefit from the bill, and that the debt forgiveness would eliminate a huge financial burden for adjuncts.
“The stress relief is as important as the material relief,” she said.
Assembly Member Epstein told Spectrum News, “From applying a multiplier to teachers’ in-class hours so that hours worked outside of class are more accurately reflected to ensuring that agencies can transmit paperwork on behalf of workers to the federal government, our legislation will help more New Yorkers get their loans forgiven faster.”