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Updated Sunday at 2:14 p.m. ET
On Friday, three days before Memorial Day, the attorneys general of 47 states wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, asking her to automatically cancel student loans for eligible disabled veterans.
The Department of Education has identified more than 42,000 veterans eligible for a federal program program known as Full and Permanent Disability Release, or PDT, which offers relief to borrowers from repaying certain government student loans. These veterans, the letter said, assume over $ 1 billion in education debt that could be canceled.
To obtain the benefit, veterans must first apply for the program. According to information obtained by the Veterans Education Success through a Freedom of Information Act group request, nearly 60 percent of eligible veterans had failed to repay their loan by April 2018. Yet only about 20 percent had applied for the loan forgiveness program.
Attorneys General want that to change. In the letter – which was also signed by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories – they propose to make the pardon program automatic for veterans identified by the Department of Education.
“As a nation, we have a moral obligation to help those who risked their lives to defend us,” the letter read. “There is no statutory or legal requirement that the Department of Education require eligible veterans to affirmatively request TPD discharges before the department waives their loans.”
In a statement to NPR, the Education Department said it recognizes the sacrifices veterans make for their country, adding that it has worked to streamline the process for discharging PDT.
“While we have worked to make this process as easy and as transparent as possible for veterans, the last thing we want to do is cause them unintended consequences,” the statement said.
The ministry said the releases could increase the tax bill for veterans or prevent them from taking more student loans.
In their letter to DeVos, the attorneys general dismissed the ministry’s concern about the increase in borrower tax bills.
“[F]Federal tax law now excludes loan repayments for borrowers with disabilities from taxable income, and the tax codes of most states do the same, “the letter said, although this resulted in an increase in the bill. state tax. “
The letter from the attorneys general follows at least two other similar letters that Republican and Democratic members of Congress sent to DeVos last year.