Under federal law, borrowers who develop severe and lasting disabilities after taking out federal student loans are entitled to have their debts forgiven. But for many years, the Department of Education’s bureaucracy has prevented disabled borrowers from having their loans forgiven.
In a February 2011 investigation I co-authored with Jeannette Neumann, Sasha Chavkin and Ben Protess, we revealed why the Department of Education’s loan forgiveness process for disabled borrowers is broken. The system lacked standards for determining disability, didn’t explain to borrowers why their applications had been denied and provided no formal appeals process for denials – shortcomings repeatedly flagged by the department’s internal watchdog and ignored.
The story was published with Pro Publica, The Center for Public Integrity, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Within ten days of publication, the Department of Education forgave the lead character’s loan and promised an overhaul of the process.
The story continues to make an impact on disabled borrowers’ lives. In July 2012, the Department of Education proposed new rules to revamp the student loan forgiveness program. In November 2012, the department implemented a key reform that will make it easier for eligible borrowers to have their loans forgiven by recognizing certain disability findings by the Social Security Administration as sufficient evidence for loan discharge.