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Student Defense Petitions Department of Education to Automatically Discharge Debt for all Eligible Students with Disabilities


April 19, 2021 


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Sen. Coons: “Another critical step to get Americans with total and permanent disabilities the student loan relief they are entitled to by law” 


WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Student Defense, Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. of Delaware, and Justice in Aging submitted a Section 553(e) Rulemaking Petition calling on the US Department of Education (the Department) to provide student loan discharges to the hundreds of thousands of borrowers with disabilities that the Department knows are entitled to relief, but who have not received it. 

“I am proud to stand with Student Defense and Community Legal Aid Society of Delaware in taking another critical step to get Americans with total and permanent disabilities the student loan relief they are entitled to by law,” said U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). “I urge the Department of Education to answer the persistent calls of borrowers, advocates, and bipartisan members of Congress to automate the loan discharge process.” 

Sen. Coons in 2018 passed the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act, which eliminated the need for borrowers or surviving family members to pay a tax penalty on forgiven loans if a borrow was totally and permanently disabled or passed away while still paying on student loans.  

In 2013, the Department amended its “total and permanent disability” (TPD) regulations to provide that certain notices from the Security Administration (SSA) “will suffice as proof” of eligibility for a TPD discharge. In 2016, the Department announced that the 2013 changes did not go far enough because borrowers were still “falling through the cracks, unaware they were eligible for relief” and entered into a matching agreement with SSA to identify eligible student borrowers. As of 2020, SSA has identified over 625,000 individuals with disabilities who are entitled to a TPD discharge and has provided that information to the Department. According to recent data, two-thirds of those borrowers – 400,000 people — have not received relief they are unquestionably entitled to.   

These eligible borrowers with disabilities continue to suffer significant financial harm because the Department continues to require them to fill out an unnecessary and byzantine application—that includes false, misleading, and legally incorrect information—in order to tell them what it already knows: namely that every single one of these individuals is entitled to  have their student loans discharged. Today’s petition, filed pursuant to Section 553(e) of the Administrative Procedure Act, calls on the Department to stop this cruel and  unnecessary requirement and to provide immediate, automated relief. 

“Our petition sets forth the easy steps that the Department of Education can take to promptly provide this life-changing relief to the hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers with disabilities who qualify for loan discharges and have already been identified by the Department,” said Alex Elson, Student Defense Senior Counsel & Cofounder.   

In 2019, the Trump Administration determined that, as applied to veterans with disabilities, the application was an “unnecessary administrative barrier” because the Department already possessed “the necessary information” to grant the TPD discharge. The same reasoning applies to all entitled student loan borrowers with disabilities. These individuals—which include many older Americans carrying student loan debt for their children and grandchildren—should no longer face costly delays or bureaucratic barriers to receiving a benefit that they are entitled to receive under the law.  

In January, former Senator Tom Harkin joined Student Defense in calling on the Biden Administration to automate TPD discharges. Student Defense previously issued a memo calling on the Department to automate TPD discharges for eligible students with disabilities as part of their 100 Day Docket project, which focuses on executive actions the Biden Administration could take that don’t require legislation. Today’s petition, which calls for the same relief, is a step toward ensuring that borrowers with disabilities receive the debt relief they are entitled to. You can read a copy of the full petition here. 

Tags   Advocacy