Piecemeal Remedies Insufficient to Address Prolific Systemic Failures
April 20, 2022 | WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report showing that the U.S. Department of Education has failed to appropriately track federal student loan borrowers’ payments and, as a result, has failed to ensure that all eligible borrowers receive the forgiveness to which they are entitled. According to the report, thousands of borrowers are still in repayment despite being eligible for forgiveness now.
This report comes on the heels of the ED announcement of a new action that would begin to remedy historical failures of income-driven repayment (IDR) for low-income student loan borrowers.
Statement from Persis Yu, Policy Director and Managing Counsel of the Student Borrower Protection Center:
Today’s report shows that problems with ED’s data are so severe that as few as 4% of borrowers who manage to navigate IDR’s complicated requirements have actually received the relief they are entitled to. ED knew as early as 2014 about these data quality issues and though they took some steps to mitigate these issues going forward, they still enormously failed borrowers who had been harmed.
“The failure of the ED to take responsibility for it and its servicers failures is inexcusable. For eight years, borrowers have been robbed of time that should count towards debt cancellation and ED did nothing to help them. Even worse, despite knowing that borrowers were being cheated of their time, the GAO found that ED actually advises servicers to overlook inaccuracies.
“The action the ED took yesterday to address IDR counting failures is a good first step to remedy some of the problems identified in the GAO report, but it does not go far enough. By failing to count time in default, it leaves out millions of borrowers who have struggled to get the benefits of IDR, and continues to rely on payment histories the Department knows to be faulty. Given all of the data problems known to exist, ED should count all time in repayment as a qualifying payment in IDR.
“It defies logic to believe that such abusive practices are limited to one program. The problems identified suggest a much deeper systemic problem within the student loan system. We cannot rely on individual programmatic fixes to fix systemic problems. Widespread debt cancellation is needed immediately.
See our comment on ED’s new IDR program for more information.