The Biden Administration announced plans to relieve student debt for Americans with severe and permanent disabilities Aug. 19. The movement, going into effect this month, will relieve $5.8 billion in debt and will affect more than 300,000 Americans with disabilities, according to the Associated Press.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from borrowers with disabilities and advocates about the need for this change and we are excited to follow through on it,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in an AP article.
John Andresen, research associate at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, said the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge program existed before Biden’s presidency.
“What the Biden admin is doing is they’re kind of just utilizing their authority right now to change an existing program,” Andresen said. “To kind of expand it to make sure that it’s reaching everybody that it should be reaching.”
If any federal student loan borrowers with a disability are unable to find gainful employment, which is steady work resulting in a self-sufficient salary, they can have their student loans cancelled, Andresen said.
“That could be physical, that could be psychological, that could be a range of different disabilities that causes them to not keep consistent gainful employment,” Andresen said.
In the past, people with disabilities had to go through an application process to have their debt forgiven, Andresen said. The issue with the application in previous years was many people were unaware they were eligible for student loan relief, he said.
Anderson said the application process is no longer in use. Borrowers now automatically qualify for the program through data supporting their disabilities in the Social Security Administration, he said.
“What they’re going to do now is they’ve completely removed that application process, which is really cool,” Andresen said. “That’s a good burden of the applicant to take away from them. They removed that hurdle.”
IU senior Harrison Getz was born with bilateral hearing loss. He was able to get hearing aids and attend speech therapy growing up, but he said this disability has always added an extra struggle within his education, especially when he got to college.
“Once I got to college, it was a whole different ballpark of really having to fend for yourself and not expect any sort of accommodation unless you are entirely on top of it and go through the whole process to do that,” Getz said.
Getz said there wasn’t always an easy solution to the problems brought on by his disability and he has struggled with feeling like a burden on his professors. He said it has been difficult to try and find accommodations.
“There are things in place to help us,” Getz said. “But I don’t think it’s talked about enough.”
He said he is grateful for the student debt relief movement. Heading to college and entering adult life is hard enough already, but having to deal with a disability and other responsibilities, like schoolwork, is a lot to take on, he said.
“I do think that would be a really cool thing because a lot of disabled people have a really sour taste in their mouth from their college or general education experience,” Getz said.
With the majority of his college years being under the Trump administration, Getz said he never even imagined a program with such easy access would be considered for people with disabilities like him.
“I never even really fathomed that would be something that was even talked about,” Getz said. “A lot of my college career was under Trump’s presidency, so it was never expected to have that sort of option even. It’s really cool to see that being talked about and that my issues and other student’s issues aren't just us being dramatic.”
Getz did not receive any disability scholarships when entering college, so he has been working toward trying to have as little future debt as possible, he said.
“Not having to worry about the financial burden that school has been and will be in the future would kind of redefine how I view what I got out of my education,” Getz said.