Today, Congressmen John Tierney (D-MA) and Trey Gowdy (R-SC) offered a bipartisan amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to fund the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program for America's prosecutors and public defenders at $10 million. The program does not receive any funding under the current bill. The amendment is paid for through a small reduction to NASA's "Mars Next Decade" outer planets space exploration program.
"I often hear from young people who are concerned about pursuing a career in public service because their student loan debt is just too high. My bipartisan amendment will help attorneys working as prosecutors and public defenders pay off their student loan debts, and it will better enable district attorneys, like Essex District Attorney Jon Blodgett, Director-at-Large of the National District Attorneys Association, to recruit and retain talented staff. In these difficult economic times, tough decisions have to be made when crafting spending bills. I strongly believe making a modest reduction to NASA's "Mars Next Decade" program so our prosecutors and public defenders can get a little help right now paying off their student loans is a smart and responsible choice," Congressman John F. Tierney said.
"Law enforcement, prosecution, and the criminal justice system are core functions of government. Loan forgiveness for police officers, prosecutors and public defenders ensures we have talented, professional women and men who may well decide to make it a career if there is some relief from staggering student loan debt," Congressman Trey Gowdy said.
"This issue has been a priority for district attorneys across the country and I so appreciate Congressmen Tierney and Gowdy's efforts to properly fund this much needed program. The criminal justice system's effectiveness depends on the quality of people who work within it. Too often, I have accepted resignations from young, talented attorneys who simply cannot afford to continue to work in the public sector due to burdensome student loan debt ," Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said.
The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program provides much-needed assistance to prosecutors and public defenders across the country and, in doing so, benefits America's criminal system. According to statistics reported by the administering agencies in each state, 1,647 prosecutors and 1,226 public defenders received assistance under the program's Fiscal Year 2010 allocation of $10 million. Under the program, attorneys can receive federal student loan repayments if they agree to remain employed for at least three years as state or local criminal prosecutors, or as state, local, or federal public defenders. This program is modeled on existing loan repayment programs for federal prosecutors and executive branch attorneys that have demonstrated great success as recruitment and retention tools.
The bipartisan, common sense amendment offered today by Reps. Tierney and Gowdy is supported by the National District Attorneys Association and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. It aims to fund the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program at $10 million, paid for by a commensurate reduction to NASA's "Mars Next Decade" program, which -- if the Tierney-Gowdy amendment is approved -- will still receive $140 million, $78 million more than the Obama Administration requested.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on this amendment later today. Both Reps. Tierney and Gowdy spoke on the House Floor in support of their amendment this afternoon. Additionally, during debate, Tierney and Gowdy obtained a commitment from Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf and Ranking Member Chaka Fattah to fight for funds for the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program during final negotiations with the Senate on this appropriations bill.