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Education Department Announces Relief for Student Loan Borrowers with Total and Permanent Disabilities During the COVID-19 Emergency

The Department of Education (Department) today announced relief for certain borrowers who have received student loan discharges due to total and permanent disability. These changes will ensure no borrowers are at risk of having their loans reinstated, meaning they would have to repay their debt—for failure to provide earnings information during the COVID-19 emergency.

This action will help more than 230,000 borrowers. More than 41,000 of these borrowers who had $1.3 billion in loans reinstated will now get their discharges back, have any payments made during the COVID-19 emergency refunded, and will not be asked to submit earnings documentation. The other 190,000 borrowers who remain in their monitoring period will not be asked to submit earnings documentation. These income monitoring requirements will be waived for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.  

“Borrowers with total and permanent disabilities should focus on their well-being, not put their health on the line to submit earnings information during the COVID-19 emergency,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “Waiving these requirements will ensure no borrower who is totally and permanently disabled risks having to repay their loans simply because they could not submit paperwork.” 

The Department is providing this relief for borrowers who receive a federal student loan discharge due to total and permanent disability. Unless it is through a process with the Department of Veterans Affairs, borrowers receiving this discharge are, by regulation, subject to a three-year monitoring period. During this time, borrowers must provide the Department with information about their earnings from employment.

Per regulation, borrowers whose earnings exceed certain thresholds and borrowers who do not meet certain other criteria will have their loans reinstated. However, a 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office found that 98 percent of reinstated disability discharges occurred not because earnings were too high, but because borrowers simply did not submit the requested documentation. 

As of today, the Department will not require borrowers who received a total and permanent disability discharge to submit earnings documentation for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. This change will be made retroactive to March 13, 2020, the start of the COVID-19 national emergency. 

Additionally, the Department will reverse any reinstatement of loan repayment requirements that occurred during this period because the borrower did not submit earnings information.  Impacted borrowers will not be required to later submit documentation of their income for the period covered by the COVID-19 emergency. Borrowers will begin to see their loans return to a discharge status in the coming weeks, including through follow-up communications from their servicer. The Department is considering other future changes to how it monitors earnings for those who receive a total and permanent disability discharge.

Today’s announcement is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s continued efforts to ensure student loan borrowers receive support and protection during the COVID-19 emergency. This includes pausing interest, payments, and collection activity on the vast majority of federal student loans through at least Sept. 30, 2021. The Department also requested a waiver from the Small Business Administration to immediately help nearly 30,000 small business owners in the Paycheck Protection Program who faced difficulties because they were delinquent or in default on a federal student loan. 

For more information, visit StudentAid.gov/coronavirus.