After promises of student loan forgiveness, borrowers wait for debt relief
BOSTON | Danielle Ramos’ student-debt nightmare was supposed to be over.
Like thousands of others who studied at failed for-profit colleges, she was promised by the U.S. Education Department under President Obama that her federal loans would be forgiven by now.
But as the weeks tick by with no reprieve, the 30-year-old college student fears the financial burden will force and her 4-yearold son to move back with her parents.
“I’m a single mom, so that’s really scary,” said Ms. Ramos, of Framingham, near Boston. “It’s just a lot of uncertainty. I’m probably going to have to rely on family to help me, and it doesn’t feel fair.”
Borrower advocates say the pipeline to loan forgiveness appears to have slowed significantly since President Trump took office, stirring concern that some students may be left in the lurch. Some also see it as a sign that the department is veering from its predecessor’s years of work to rein in fraudulent for-profit colleges.
Education Department officials dispute those claims, saying they’re working quickly to clear a backlog that was inherited from the previous administration.
When Mr. Obama left office, 16,453 borrowers were waiting for loan cancellations that had already been approved, and more than 64,000 others had filed new applications.
For months, advocates say, it appeared few or none of those cases were being processed. Democrats in the Senate requested an update from the Education Department in May but say they received no response.
On Monday, the Education Department released data showing that 7,085 of the 16,453 previously approved claims now have been discharged, amounting to $92 million in loans. According to the data, which were provided first to The Associated Press, another 7,300 cases are in the final stages of the process and will be discharged shortly, while the remaining 2,000 currently are being processed by the department.
Still, the wait has left some borrowers paying for loans that were promised to be wiped clean by now. Some have lost wages and tax returns to debt collectors.
Ms. Ramos ran up $15,000 in debt to attend the American Career Institute, a chain of for-profit colleges that abruptly closed in 2013 after she received nine months of training as a medical assistant.
Now enrolled at MassBay Community College and working toward a certificate in surgical technology, Ms. Ramos says she hasn’t heard any update on her debt cancellation and worries she’ll still have to pay it back.
“Because of the education I got at MassBay, I’m going to be able to get good-paying job. But it’s not fair that I’m going to have to use that money to pay back something that didn’t deliver,” she said.
The Obama administration cracked down aggressively on for-profit colleges that enticed students to take on hefty loans with promises they couldn’t keep. It pressured chains including Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute to close, and it approved at least $655 million in loan cancellations from those chains.
Under Mr. Trump, the department’s new data suggest, no new loan discharges have been approved from the pool of 64,301 pending applications. A department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“In its last three months, the Obama administration approved more than 12,000 loans for discharge,” said Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president of the Institute For College Access and Success, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Oakland, California. “In its first five months, the Trump administration has approved zero, while tens of thousands of applications languish and borrowers are left waiting for relief.”
In May, a group of Democratic lawmakers urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to speed up the process. Attorneys general from 17 states and Washington, D.C., later told Mrs. DeVos the delay was harming borrowers. A coalition of 31 advocacy groups for military veterans sent a letter to members of Congress this month saying many veterans are waiting for loan discharges, adding that “any delay is an affront to defrauded service members.”
Students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, like Danielle Ramos in Wellesley, Massachusetts, were told that their loans would be forgiven, but the Trump administration has yet to keep that promise.