Sen. Charles Schumer Monday urged thousands of New Yorkers and millions of Americans who work in public sector and nonprofit organizations to use a government program designed to help them manage their student loan debt, and in some cases, forgive them.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is underutilized, Schumer said, and he is calling on the education and labor departments to help raise awareness and do more to let workers know of the benefits available.

"Our nation's public teachers, health workers and government employees may be missing out on the opportunity to lessen the burden of student loan debt from their lives," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a letter sent to the education and labor secretaries.

Under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which Congress passed in 2007, those who are employed with a federal, state or local government agency, entity or organization, or a nonprofit that has been designated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, can have their unpaid student loan balances, including principal and interest, erased after 10 years of public service.

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Borrowers must work full time in a public-service field or nonprofit, and have made 10 years of payments under one of these: the standard 10-year repayment plan, the income contingent repayment plan, or the income-based repayment plan. The last two plans, based on a percentage of incomes, let borrowers make smaller monthly payments than what is typically required under the standard repayment plan.

Only federal Direct Loans originated by the Department of Education qualify for forgiveness. Borrowers who used the Federal Family Educational Loan (FFEL) and the Perkins Loan programs are not eligible. Still, these borrowers could consolidate the loans into a new Direct Loan and they would be eligible under the program.

Schumer is urging employers to include enrollment forms for student loan forgiveness programs as part of benefit packages given to new hires.

"These programs hold potential value to not only the public service employees, but also to our country as a whole," Schumer said. "However, these programs will only be beneficial if borrowers sign up."