Fedweek

Federal agencies made more use of the student loan reimbursement authority in 2017 and reported positive effects on recruitment and retention of their employees but a familiar issue, lack of available funds, continued to limit the program, according to OPM.

The program allows agencies to pay prospective or current employees up to $10,000 per year, $60,000 lifetime, to repay student loans, in exchange for a three-year service agreement.

OPM’s latest annual report, dated June but only recently released, shows that 34 agencies provided some 10,200 employees with a total of nearly $75 million in student loan repayment benefits, an average of above $7,300. That was an increase of 3.4 percent in the number of employees receiving the benefit and a 4.6 percent increase in funding over 2016, but still only back to about the level of 2012. In 2013 there was a drop due to budgetary restrictions in general, with the numbers gradually increasing since.

“As stated in previous reports to Congress, the primary barrier identified by agencies for their full use of the student loan repayment program authority is a lack of dedicated budgetary funding. Several agencies, including those utilizing the program heavily, specifically commented that budgetary issues remain a major impediment to using (or maximizing the use of) the student loan repayment program authority, as a recruitment or retention human capital tool,” it said.

Other issues, it said, include reluctance by employees to commit to the service agreement and the “cumbersome” process involved.

As in prior years, use of the authority was concentrated at certain agencies and in certain occupation. DoD accounts for 24 percent of the total amount paid, Justice 13 percent, SEC 9 percent, HHS 8 percent and VA 6 percent, with the remaining 20 percent spread over the other 28 agencies.

By occupation, the incentives most frequently were paid to various types of engineers at DoD, investigators and attorneys at Justice, and attorney-advisors, accountants and securities examiners at SEC.