In this Sept. 30, 2021, file photo, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Greg Nash / Pool via AP

The U.S. Department of Education announced sweeping changes to its public service loan forgiveness program.

The program, created to entice workers to take jobs like teachers, nurses and firefighters with the promise of student debt forgiveness, for years has been plagued with problems and complaints from borrowers and government watchdogs.

Eligibility for the program is stringent, based on borrowers making 10 years of so-called qualifying payments. The vast majority of applicants are denied — with only 2 percent of applications between Nov. 9, 2020, and April 30 deemed eligible.

The overhaul will result in 22,000 borrowers who have consolidated loans — including those previously ineligible — becoming immediately eligible for $1.74 billion in forgiveness, with 27,000 more who may qualify for added debt relief. In total, the agency expects more than 550,000 who have previously consolidated loans to see an increase in qualifying payments, according to a press release.

“Borrowers who devote a decade of their lives to public service should be able to rely on the promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “The system has not delivered on that promise to date, but that is about to change for many borrowers who have served their communities and their country.”

Nic Querolo, Bloomberg News