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Student Defense and Delaware Senator Chris Coons Call on Department of Education to Discharge Loans of More Than 350,000 Borrowers with Disabilities

WASHINGTON, DC – Student Defense and U.S. Senator Chris Coons today called on the Department of Education to provide total and permanent disability (TPD) student loan discharges to more than 350,000 borrowers with disabilities who the Department has identified as eligible for TPD relief. The statements came alongside the release of a new Student Defense paper detailing executive actions that the Department could take to provide discharges to hundreds of thousands of borrowers who are not receiving the relief to which they are entitled.

Under the Higher Education Act, student loan borrowers with total and permanent disabilities are forced to apply for a discharge of their outstanding debt even after the government determines they are eligible. The Department of Education uses data from the Social Security Administration to identify eligible borrowers, and then notify them of their eligibility. However, that process has failed: 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 had not received relief. 

“Since the passage of my Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act, I have been urging the Department of Education to automatically discharge federal student loans for Americans with total and permanent disabilities, including veterans,” said Senator Chris Coons. “Under law, these student loan borrowers are entitled to loan discharge, yet the Department has refused to eliminate challenges in the discharge process that are both administratively burdensome and unnecessary. As a result, hundreds of thousands of borrowers that are entitled to relief remain burdened with debt. I applaud Student Defense for its persistent advocacy on behalf of these borrowers.”

“The injustice of the federal government withholding total and permanent disability relief from people who it knows are totally and permanently disabled is hard to comprehend,” said Student Defense Senior Counsel and Cofounder Alex Elson. “Life-changing debt relief for over 350,000 borrowers with disabilities is possible if the Department simply acts. If Secretary DeVos is unwilling to stop this injustice, the next Secretary of Education should do so immediately.”

“Automating the Discharge of Federal Student Loan Debt for Individuals who are Totally and Permanently Disabled” is available here.

The new paper is part of the 100 Day Docket initiative, designed to help a future Department of Education take immediate, decisive action to protect students. Student Defense is publishing a series of papers identifying opportunities for the Department of Education to exercise underused authorities in the Higher Education Act to promote equity and foster stronger protections and outcomes for students. Papers so far include how the Department can hold individual executives personally liable for their schools’ misconduct, how to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and how the Department can establish robust accountability metrics to require schools to foster equity.

More information about the project is available at www.100DayDocket.org