Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities

Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities
© Stefani Reynolds

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to the Department of Education asking for answers about a student loan forgiveness program for people with severe and permanent disabilities after an NPR report found it was not being applied to the vast majority of eligible borrowers.

Data provided to NPR indicated only 28 percent of eligible borrowers the department identified between March 2016 and September 2019 had their loans erased or were in the process of having them erased.

"We write with serious concern about the Department of Education's (ED) process to discharge federal student loans for totally and permanently disabled Americans, including veterans,” the lawmakers, led by Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsVoting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Warren's VP bid faces obstacle: Her state's Republican governor MORE (D-Del.), wrote in the letter NPR said was slated to be sent Thursday to Education Department acting Inspector General Sandra Bruce.

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"Most importantly, it appears that ED's process for TPD [totally and permanently disabled] loan discharges is failing to provide student loan relief to hundreds of thousands of Americans, including veterans, who are entitled to this relief under the law," the letter says. "We urge ED's Office of Inspector General to investigate the TPD loan discharge process immediately."

One of the factors complicating the program is the application process itself, according to NPR.

"A lot of folks have disabilities that, frankly, prevent them from going through the process," Persis Yu of the National Consumer Law Center told NPR, citing the examples of cognitive disabilities or conditions that might require long hospital stays.

Under the program, conditionally approved borrowers must also complete three years of income verification, and Department of Education data indicate 75,000 eligible borrowers had their loans despite their eligibility, most of them for not submitting the required income-verification documents.

NPR also found discrepancies in the data the department reported to Congress, finding that while Education officials told Congress that it was successfully discharging the loans of 40 percent of borrowers with significant, permanent disabilities, the numbers actually indicated that only 28 percent had their loans forgiven or in the process after subtracting those who had loans reinstated.

The letter urges the inspector general to explore options for automating the process as soon as a borrower is determined to be eligible rather than imposing administrative work on the borrower.

Signers of the letter included Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump expected to visit Maine despite governor's concerns Democrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river MORE (R-Maine.), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthBiden unveils disability rights plan: 'Your voices must be heard' Warren calls for investigation into OSHA inspections during pandemic Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-Ill.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanIs Trump encouraging the world's use of national security as stealth protectionism? House Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet MORE (R-Ohio). The Hill has reached out to the Department of Education for comment.