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Coalition Urges DeVos to Provide Critical Loan Relief to 350,000 Americans with Disabilities

Student Defense and Partner Organizations Call on Secretary DeVos to Provide Automatic Total and Permanent Disability Loan Discharges to Borrowers she has Already Identified as Eligible 

WASHINGTON, DC – Student Defense and a coalition of more than 30 higher education, legal aid, disability rights, consumer and veterans groups called on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to provide total and permanent disability (TPD) student loan discharges to roughly 350,000 borrowers with disabilities who the Department of Education has identified as eligible for TPD relief.  Today, these organizations sent a letter to Secretary DeVos urging her to act swiftly to provide all of these borrowers with the relief they are entitled to under the law.

“The only thing standing in the way of relief for 350,000 Americans with disabilities is Betsy DeVos’s will to get it done,” said Student Defense Senior Counsel Alex Elson. “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. Secretary DeVos has the power to end this injustice immediately.” 

Under the Higher Education Act (HEA), student loan borrowers with total and permanent disabilities are entitled to apply for a discharge of their outstanding debt. The Department of Education uses data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to identify eligible borrowers, and then notify them of their eligibility. However, that process has failed: over 60% of eligible borrowers identified by SSA have not applied for the relief. According to November 2019 data provided to Student Defense in response to a FOIA request, of 571,527 borrowers identified using Social Security data, 353,445 eligible borrowers still have not received relief. 

In 2019, the Department of Education began the process of automatically discharging federal student loan debt for disabled veterans identified as eligible for TPD relief by the Department of Veterans Affairs, citing the TPD application process as a hurdle preventing many veterans from receiving relief. Precisely the same rationale applies to the Americans with disabilities that the SSA has already certified meet the requirements for a TPD discharge. As the numbers discussed above make clear, the application process is standing in the way of critical relief for hundreds of thousands of eligible borrowers, thwarting the intent of Congress that their student loan debt be discharged.

The coalition’s letter joins efforts by a bipartisan group in Congress, and comes on the same day as a letter on the same topic from Student Loan Ombudspersons from multiple states.  

The letter is available here.