Joe Biden may give disabled debtors fast assist

America may be relieved to have turned the page in 2020, but 2021 could bring the unwanted repayment of monthly student loan bills to millions of people across the country. For student loan borrowers who owe a total of more than $ 1.6 trillion to the federal government, the temporary exemption from paying student loans was a key lifeline during the pandemic. For those borrowers with disabilities who cannot return to work even after the COVID-19 crisis, the resumption of monthly payments could be devastating.

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In the early days of his new administration, President-elect Joe Biden’s candidate for the Department of Education, Miguel Cardona, can transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled borrowers – and provide a significant economic incentive – simply by establishing a debt relief program that already exists.

Under federal law, borrowers who are unable to work due to their “complete and permanent disability” are entitled to full relief on their federal student loans. The Department of Education has already identified hundreds of thousands of qualified borrowers through analysis of the data shared by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration.

IOWA VIEW: Canceling student debts for the wealthy is offensive and unjust

However, despite this hard work, less than 40% of identified borrowers have received the relief to which they are entitled. At least 400,000 eligible borrowers are stuck making payments on loans that the department knows they have no debt.

In some cases, the department has even sent these borrowers into the collections process and used disability benefits to collect these debts – a grave betrayal of some of the most vulnerable among us.

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The Student Defense nonprofit group released an analysis in December with a roadmap for the next administration to automate the discharge process.

Administrative law is full of pitfalls for the unwary, but there is no question that automating this relief would be legal. The Trump administration announced – with great enthusiasm – a near-identical automatic layoff for about 25,000 disabled veterans in 2019, but refused to do the same for the remaining eligible borrowers who happened to have failed the armed forces.

And there is no question that it is the right thing to do. Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer difficulties and hardships that are difficult to imagine and the system fails them. What use is relief if it doesn’t reach those whom it is supposed to help? Because of this, more than 30 disability rights advocates and consumer organizations, as well as nine states under President Trump, have pushed for these changes.

The only question is whether the next education secretary will fix this problem and give these borrowers the relief they need.

Aaron Ament

Cumming’s Tom Harkin was a U.S. Senator from 1985 to 2015. Aaron Ament is President of Student Defense and served as Chief of Staff in the Office of the General Counsel of the Department of Education during the Obama administration.

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