Government Promises: "If we didn't pinkie-swear, it doesn't count"

Does this seem a little unfair to you?-Apparently thousands of people signed up for a Department of Education loan-forgiveness program, in which they agreed to work for the government or an agreed-upon non-profit agency for ten years. Now they are being told that:

  1. The government changed it’s mind, so the deal is off, and
  2. Apparently the deal is off retroactively, so tough titty about all the years already put in.

Does and/or should the government have the right to do this?

In general, I believe the rule should be that cases of governmental ambiguity in communication between citizen and government should be resolved in favor of the citizen. Yeah, this is going to mean that if government employees phrase communications ambiguously, I and other taxpayers will be on the hook for it; if we don’t like that, we should elect better communicators.

I believe this is generally the rule, although I can’t cite it.

In this case, if the government’s actions reasonably led someone to believe that a certain course of action would result in loan forgiveness, that’s what should happen. The loan should be forgiven.

But was there even any ambiguity in this deal?

I believe you are thinking of Contra proferentem, the general rule that when the wording of an agreement is ambiguous, it should be decided against the party that wrote the agreement.

That way, people writing contracts have an incentive to be a clear as possible, since they will not profit from unclear terms.

I have questions. Does this only apply to people who had their student loans serviced through FedLoan Servicing? What was the chain of events here that prompted people to get “approval” letters from FedLoan? What did the letters actually say?

As presented I’d agree that this sounds like bullshit, but the devil is going to be in the details. I’m putting my skeptic hat on.

A lot depends on how much deference is owed to an agency’s interpretation of a statute.

I can’t answer “should” without an understanding of what you think the answer to that question is.

Here is a link to the Public Service Employment Certification Program form. I’m not seeing anything that hints at ambiguity as to the existence of this on-going program, the qualifications needed to comply with said program, or the payoff if one completes said program. There is also nothing about retroactive dismissal of all time put in if the government changes its mind. If I took this form to a lawyer, would he give me warnings that there is a possibility that I could fulfill my end of the bargain, but the government could back out any time they wanted…even after the fact?

OK, I skimmed the lawsuit and answered some of my questions. Potential applicants were encouraged (but not required) to submit annual employment eligibility checks through FedLoan. For some of the plaintiffs, they have years worth of approved eligibility checks basically saying, “Yes, your employer is approved and you’re making appropriate payments.” At some point, the DoE changed its mind on some of their employers and is now telling them that they’re SOL for all of their previous years.

So yeah, total bullshit. Nearest I can tell, the plaintiffs followed the guidance given to them by the government to the letter and got fucked despite it.

Yeah, if they had said, “These employers are no longer eligible, and you will no longer get credit for working for them in the future, effective <some date in the near future>”, then that might be an annoying move on their part, but it would be within their rights.

It does seem like this action is some sort of breach of contract, as people were following the instructions given, and the instructions changed retroactively. IANAL, but it seems to me that that sort of thing should not be allowed. I cannot tell my employee that I am going to pay them $20 an hour, and then on pay day, tell them that their pay was retroactively changed to minimum wage.

Right. The problem is that the loan forgiveness program is a 10 year process that you only officially apply for at the very end. To set people’s minds at ease about such a risky proposition, the DoE outlined a specific procedure wherein potential applicants could document their employment and payments on an annual basis. They’re now claiming that following their own recommendation was just for funsies.

You can’t give your opinion without knowing what someone else’s opinion is?

The issue is a bit more nuanced than people are making it out to be. The Government is saying, in essence, that the people in question relied upon the interpretation of a non-governmental agency to assure themselves of compliance, and the Government is now deciding that the agency in question was wrong in its interpretation.

Which doesn’t mean it isn’t all sorts of messed up. But the conversation should at least be based upon the true situation.

I’m just going off the lawsuit, which could be wrong, but it seems like the DoE *instructed *people to use the interpretation of the non-governmental agency to assure themselves of compliance.

In other words, the government appears to have contracted out its responsibility, decided to review (years later) the work its contractor was doing, and is now absolving itself of responsibility for mistakes its own contractor made because, “hey, it’s a 3rd party.”

Another article, from The New York Times.

Why do you say I can’t answer “should” without an understanding of what you think the answer to that question is?

So Bricker accepting that applicants were directed to this delegated agency for determinations regarding their qualifications for this program and that there was no notice given that such determinations were provisional, tentative, and at most advisory, would a reasonable applicant assume that the designated delegated agency had the authority to make such a determination?

My answer to “how much deference is owed to an agency’s interpretation of a statute” is, under the circumstance of the DOE delegating such determinations to an outside agency without clear notice that the delegated agency’s determinations were only provisional, that complete deference must be given to the delegated agency’s interpretation of the statute. The failure to give the delegated agency sufficient guidance on the DOE’s preferred interpretation of the statute and allowing them to function for years under executing an interpretation that the DOE now decides is not exactly their preferred one is mostly the DOE’s failure ad responsibility and less so the delegated agency’s. It is to no degree the failure and responsibility of the applicants who were following the instructions as given and making decisions according to how a reasonable person would understand what was presented as guidance from the DOE.

I do understand that the DOE has Trump’s business dealings as a model now, and perhaps feels emboldened to say after having received the goods desired to say that they will not pay as retroactively they are not satisfied, but it is still not what “should” be standard practice. IMHO.

I am also a bit surprised that you needed to know what others think “should” be in this case. But you now at least have one answer to that question.

To me this is even a bit less ethical than the Pentagon having wanted to get money plus interest from veterans from their re-enlistment bonuses ten years after the fact and after several tours of duty because the California National Guard had made mistakes and had officials who screwed up or even committed fraud.

Because I have no framework otherwise for how the questioner thinks government agencies’ decisions should be viewed.

I have a personal opinion, of course, but it’s not remotely relevant.

If you’re answering the “does” question, it isn’t, but neither is your question to Czarcasm. If you’re answering the “should” question, it’s the only thing you can say that would be relevant.

The needle you’re threading looks like you’re fishing for an opportunity to accuse the OP of hypocrisy. Better just to say what your opinion is, or what established law is.

The lawsuit was filed in 2016; DOE that reneged on the interpretation eligibility requirements was Obama’s DOE, not Trump’s.

Can you explain how the Department of Education was so influenced by Trump’s business model prior to 2016?

Was it a Delorean, DSeid? Did Lynn perhaps accelerate to 88 miles per hour, travel forward through the space-time continuum, learn of Trump’s victory, and then return to 2016 to begin cementing her position?

Was it the TARDIS? Is she a companion of The Doctor?

Was it psychic powers?

Merely because Trump is a nightmare does not remove the requirement for some rational thought. This decision has nothing to do with Trump; it was set in motion before Trump was the nominee, much less the President.