Student Debt Cancellation for People with Disabilities: What the New Rule Means for Some in South Dakota

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SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) – Starting this month, the US Department of Education will begin forgiving student loans to Americans with permanent disabilities. It’s something that has always been available in America, but in August, the Biden administration announced that it was getting rid of the long application and waiting period typically associated with this process.

The announcement is good news for people like Sioux Falls taxi driver Omar Waliye.

“I can drive maybe three, four hours a day,” Waliye said.

It’s a big career change from his old job on a production line.

“My back is really hard, I can’t stand for more than 15 minutes, it just hurts,” Waliye said.

A serious injury caused Omar to undergo two back operations.

“There’s a simulator on my back, a battery on my back,” Waliye said. “Sometimes I call myself just like a half-robot.”

After his first back surgery, he decided to go to school because he would need to find a career that doesn’t require standing or heavy lifting.

“I was studying information technology, but unfortunately I got sick and had to give up,” Omar said.

As Omar was about to start his second semester in college, he was diagnosed with cancer.

“The tumor in my chest and in my throat, my ears and my neck,” Waliye said.

He lost his hearing and lost a lot of weight due to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“Every day I lose weight, I can’t eat or drink anything, just stuff by the port,” he said.
Omar still faces side effects every day that make the job difficult and paying off his student loan almost impossible.

“I can’t pay this bill, I can’t work like everyone else,” Waliye said.

“These are the people with the most severe disabilities, they were eligible for social security benefits, which is a very high level of disability to respect. You have to prove that you can’t work for at least 12 months or more, ”said Tim Neyhart, executive director of Disability Rights South Dakota.

For years, Disability Rights South Dakota has helped many people with severe disabilities after attending school obtain student debt forgiveness or abstention.

“If someone were to apply for a student loan forgiveness, they would have to go through a fairly long process to apply and prove that they are unable to work,” Neyhart said.

But this new change will eliminate the lengthy application process and the normally required three-year waiting period, helping hundreds of thousands of Americans like Omar access federal student debt cancellation faster.

“The burden of these unpaid loans, especially student loans, keeps people from moving forward in many areas of their lives,” Neyhart said. “Having a clean loan record for things like accessing apartments or houses, even rental agreements often have ground checks related to loan history or credit history.”

An additional burden, Omar hopes he will soon no longer have to carry.

“It really helps me a lot; it’s a huge burden on me, ”said Omar.

The US Department of Education predicts that the new change will impact more than 320,000 Americans who became disabled or whose disabilities worsened during or after college.

Neyhart says if you have a federal student loan and are already on Social Security disability, contact your provider to see if this rule change will impact your situation.


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