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Student Defense Encourages Incoming Secretary Cardona to Prioritize Relief for Borrowers with Disabilities

WASHINGTON, DC – As the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on the confirmation of Dr. Miguel Cardona to serve as Secretary of Education, Student Defense strongly supports his confirmation and is encouraging him to act immediately to help more than 400,000 borrowers with disabilities who are eligible for a complete discharge of their federal student loans.

“Dr. Cardona is inheriting tremendous challenges from his predecessor, and will find himself pulled in myriad directions as he confronts a deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic inequalities in education that can no longer be ignored,” said Student Defense Senior Counsel Alex Elson. “Addressing these challenges will take time, but early in his tenure Dr. Cardona can transform the lives of over 400,000 Americans with disabilities by automating the total and permanent disability relief program and eliminating the post-discharge monitoring period. These simple actions would instantly clear the way for approximately $14 billion in relief for these deserving borrowers, and help to build momentum for the Department’s urgent, ambitious agenda.”

Under federal law, student borrowers who are unable to work because they are “totally and permanently disabled” are eligible for a complete discharge of their federal student loans, and the Department of Education has already identified hundreds of thousands of qualifying borrowers by analyzing data shared by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, less than 40% of the identified borrowers have received the relief they are entitled to. At least 400,000 eligible borrowers are stuck making payments on loans the Department knows they do not owe.

As part of the 100 Day Docket Initiative, Student Defense published a report detailing how the Biden Administration can take swift action to deliver relief to these deserving borrowers, proposing to grant automatic discharges to all individuals who have matched as eligible through the SSA data, and eliminate the three-year post-discharge monitoring period. U.S. Senator Chris Coons endorsed the proposal, calling the current system “administratively burdensome and unnecessary” while praising Student Defense’s “persistent advocacy on behalf of these borrowers.”

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

Student Defense worked to elevate this issue during the previous administration as well. In March 2020, Student Defense organized a coalition of more than 30 higher education, legal aid, disability rights, consumer and veterans groups calling on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to provide eligible borrowers with the relief. 

More recently, former Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) joined Student Defense President Aaron Ament in publishing an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, laying out how the Biden Administration can help these borrowers.

Tags   100 Day Docket