Student loan officials from seven states and the District of Columbia are urging Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul to forgive student loans for tens of thousands of borrowers with permanent disabilities.
Student loan ombudspersons say 53,343 disabled borrowers in their jurisdiction have received notices they may qualify to have their loans forgiven under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, but just 10 percent have been granted relief, according to NBC News.
“It is therefore critical that as Secretary you use your regulatory authority and access to borrower information to create the least onerous path to relief for this population, both as they apply for relief and to satisfy the monitoring requirements,” a letter, signed by ombudspersons in Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Maine, New York, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia read.
Student loan borrowers with significant, permanent disabilities who can no longer work enough to support themselves or repay their debts can have their federal student loans forgiven. The ombudspersons called on DeVos and Saul to automatically discharge student loans for eligible borrowers under the Total and Permanent Disability loan discharge program.
Meanwhile, a second letter signed by student loan advocates was sent to DeVos asking her to automatically discharge the federal student loans of 350,000 student borrowers with disabilities nationwide who are eligible.
“She is going so far as to seize the disability benefits that many borrowers with disabilities depend on to survive, all to collect on loans she knows they do not owe,” National Student Legal Defense senior counsel Alex Elson said in a statement. “Secretary DeVos has the power to end this injustice immediately.”
The Education Department requires eligible borrowers to apply for help, but the advocates and officials argue the application process is burdensome and unnecessary.
The requests come after the Trump administration last year agreed to forgive student loan debt of veterans with disabilities.
In a statement to NBC, the Education Department said the process requires borrowers to submit applications before a loan discharge can be completed.
“But we are interested in providing automatic discharge to these borrowers and believe the FUTURE Act makes this a possibility – but will require the department to undergo negotiated rulemaking,” Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, told NBC News.
The FUTURE Act was signed into law in December and aims to streamline parts of the student aid system.
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