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Colorado Quarterly Magazine 

"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"


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Student Loan Laws Cause Problems

Today, I happened to find your website while surfing. I am wondering if you would be able to bring some attention to a major issue facing many disabled people and, if possible, I would like some assistance to resolve my own situation. 

The student loan laws in this country are a major obstacle in enabling Americaís brightest and most well educated disabled people to enter the workforce. In fact, the laws often keep disabled people collecting government benefits because people are unable to pay their living expenses, medical bills, attendant care bills and high student loan bills even if they have a reasonable chance of attaining a full-time job. Disabled people are often forced to borrow more money to complete their education than non-disabled people due to needs for equipment, attendant care, length of time needed to complete their studies, and often need to attend private schools which are smaller, easier to navigate and have smaller classes.

The current student loan consolidation programs do not make any allowance for the additional medical bills that disabled people may have to enable them to work. In my own case, I owe $42,000. The only consolidation program that has any chance of enabling me to pay my bill is the Direct Consolidation Loan (DCL). The others do not offer a payment that I can afford. I am 42 years old and have cerebral palsy. I use a wheelchair, need personal care assistance, and have other medical bills for equipment, medicine and a handicapped equipped van, which are not covered by insurance or funds from any agencies. The DCL bases payments on Adjusted Gross Income, and any debt remaining will be canceled at the end of 25 years. Sounds good, however the fine print says that you have to pay taxes on the amount forgiven. Using their calculations, if I was only able to make a small payment every month I would owe $30,000-38,000 in income taxes when I am 67! If I canít pay the money when I am of working age, what makes the government think I will have this spare sum of money to pay taxes at 67? 

In addition, I have spoken with Direct Loan Consolidators as well as people handling all other consolidation programs and have been told that no consideration is given to the fact of high medical bills, and that Impairment Related Expense Plans granted by the Social Security Administration to disabled people who work would be not be excluded from calculations in determining the monthly payment amount under the Direct Loan Program. I am told that if wages of a disabled person were garnished by the student loan company, medical and impairment related expenses would not be exempt from garnishment.

One must also ask why disabled people who have their student loans canceled due to permanent disability are forced to live in abject poverty. An attorney was going to attempt to help me get part of my student loans canceled until I received a form stating that I had to certify under penalty of perjury that I could never earn any money for the rest of my life. In bold print, the form clearly stated that student loan cancellation guidelines were different from the guidelines of all other public assistance programs and that one could earn absolutely no money.

Hardship discharges are rarely granted and from what I have been able to read at FindLaw message boards regarding student loans, the lenders often harass anyone who does succeed in getting a discharge. Additionally, a hardship discharge has the same negative impact on a personís credit as a bankruptcy. 

Disabled people are often forced into poverty to have government medical insurance. Agencies such as County Housing Authorities and Food Stamps do not have to allow student loan payments in a personís budget when determining eligibility for assistance.

I have three Masterís Degrees: an M.B.A. with enough classes to sit for the Certified Public Accounting Exam, two graduate theology degrees, a B.A. with a double major in English and Theology, Accounting and Business Technology Certificates and a secondary teaching certificate. I had difficulty in the teaching field and nearly starved to death in the ministry in the early 1980s, and encountered so many obstacles to steady employment due to my disability that I was approved to receive SSDI in 1986. I canít get the ministry and teaching loans discharged due to my disability and even though I paid more than $5,000 of an $11,000 loan, I currently owe $14,000 due to the interest accumulation. 

I am currently working at two part-time jobs as a receptionist and clerical secretary earning a total of $304-$360 per month. Because I have made this attempt, my food stamps have been terminated, and my housing assistance has been significantly decreased. I have an $864 monthly SSDI check. The reduction of assistance from these programs leaves me with about $180 per month in additional disposable income from workómuch less that than the $483 needed to pay my loans.

I know I am not alone in my plight. I went to school over the years with many disabled people who borrowed much more than I have, and who have even more education, who canít get jobs, and canít pay their student loans. 

Currently, I am in the process of working with the director of the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in my area and my church to brainstorm ways to raise money to pay my student loans. I have diligently been seeking private grants, but they seem to be few and far between. I would greatly appreciate any leads you may have for organizations or individuals who might be willing to donate some money to pay student loans. A trust fund has been set up for this purpose that would allow anyone who donates to receive a tax deduction.

The disability community as a whole would benefit from some publicity of the plight of college-educated people who canít pay their loans. Perhaps an article and some Internet posts, and stories of individuals affected would spark some needed legislative changes. 

Thank you for providing such an informative web site and for any assistance you are able to provide about this matter.

Mary Bucca
Largo, Florida
Editor: Weíd like to hear other readersí experiences. Send us a letter or email.

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