WASHINGTON, D.C. – A National Public Radio (NPR) investigation
has found that hundreds of thousands of totally and permanently disabled (TPD) Americans have not received the student loan relief they are entitled to by law. U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), the leading voice on this issue in the Senate, was featured in the report
that was published this morning. Senator Coons expressed his concern that the Department of Education is failing to provide financial relief to hundreds of thousands of eligible TPD borrowers and hasn’t provided adequate transparency to Congress in the process.
"I just don't understand why the Department of Education continues to fail to make good on this opportunity to make a lasting difference in the lives of Americans who've already suffered enough,” Senator Coons told NPR. “The Department of Education simply needs to match up social security numbers and full names and send a notice of discharge, rather than make folks jump through another hoop and another layer of bureaucratic red tape.”
Under the Higher Education Act of 1965, individuals who are TPD are eligible to have their outstanding federal student loans forgiven. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, federal student loans that are discharged due to death or TPD are tax exempt. The Department of Education utilizes data provided through matching agreements with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify disabled federal student loan borrowers who may be eligible for TPD loan discharge. If identified in the match, borrowers are notified through a letter in the mail and must complete and submit a discharge application. Despite the existing legal benefit for loan discharge and the removal of a federal tax penalty two years ago, many borrowers, in applying for relief, face significant challenges that are both administratively burdensome and unnecessary. According to NPR’s investigation
, only 28% of eligible borrowers identified between March 2016 and September 2019 have either had their loans erased or are on track for that to happen.
Senator Coons’ efforts in the Senate:
In April 2016, Senator Coons introduced
the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act to exempt from tax federal and private student loans that are discharged due to the death of a child or TPD. Also, in 2016, Senator Coons called on the Education Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a data match to identify permanently disabled veterans with outstanding student debt, just as the Education Department agreed to do with the Social Security Administration. Since the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act was passed into law in December 2017 as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Senator Coons has led several letters, sent on February 15, 2018
and October 9, 2019
respectively, to the Department of Education urging the department to make the student loan discharge process automatic upon a borrower being matched in the database. On multiple occasions, Senator Coons and his staff have requested data from the Education Department that includes number of borrowers matched and number of loans discharged.