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NPR News: Letters Urge Betsy DeVos To Erase Student Loans For Borrowers With Disabilities

By Cory Turner

The U.S. Department of Education must act to help thousands of student loan borrowers who have severe disabilities; that's the message of two letters sent Tuesday to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Because of their disabilities, these borrowers qualify to have their federal student loans erased. But one letter, signed by more than 30 advocacy groups, says the department has made the application process so burdensome that most borrowers never get the help they're entitled to.

A second letter, signed by the student loan advocates of seven states and the District of Columbia, similarly urges the department to clear away unnecessary administrative hurdles and to automatically discharge the loans of all eligible borrowers with permanent disabilities.

In a statement to NPR, Education Department Press Secretary Angela Morabito suggested the department is open to change:

"The Department's current implementing regulations require it to receive an application before completing a civilian [total and permanent disability] discharge, 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."

The letters come after an NPR investigation revealed that only 28% of eligible borrowers with disabilities — identified by the Education Department between March 2016 and September 2019 — have either had their loans erased or are on track for that to happen.

"That number is unacceptable. Twenty-eight percent is a shockingly low number," says Alex Elson, senior counsel at the National Student Legal Defense Network, one of the advocacy groups pushing DeVos to make improvements.