Washington, D.C. – Today, Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Fla.) introduced legislation to eliminate student loan debt for disabled and elderly individuals.
The Student Loan Relief for Medicare and Social Security Recipients Act would fully relieve Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance participants of all student loan debt that dates back more than twenty years – for both current recipients and future enrollees.
According to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) data from 2019, more than 3 million Americans ages 60 and older collectively owed more than $86 billion in unpaid student loans – up from $66.7 billion in 2017. While the Biden administration’s efforts to forgive up to $20,000 per individual would significantly reduce that burden, individuals ages 50 to 61 hold an average of $43,444 in student loan debt, more than double the maximum relief amount.
Student loan debt is particularly crushing for disabled and older individuals, who have extensive health care and other costs they must counterbalance with debt repayment. An analysis from the CFPB found that 39% of consumers aged 60 and older who have student loan debt failed to take care of health care needs such as prescription medicines, doctors’ visits, and dental care because they couldn’t afford it, compared to 25% of older consumers without a student loan.
Many older Americans have also turned to their Social Security benefits to pay back student debt, and a third of seniors with student debt are in default on their loans – enabling the federal government to garnish up to 15% of their Social Security income. From 2002 to 2013, the number of individuals whose Social Security benefits were offset to pay student loan debt increased about five-fold, putting a significant strain on those who are already facing economic hardships.
“Education in this country was meant to be the great equalizer, but student loan debt has undermined economic mobility and reinforced the racial and generational wealth gap in America. A disproportionate number of older Americans – women, people of color, and lower-income individuals – are struggling with student loan payments, even having social security benefits garnished to repay them. The Student Loan Relief for Medicare and Social Security Recipients Act will unburden student loan debt for Americans enrolled in Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance, by forgiving loans for millions of disabled and older Americans. As the student loan debt crisis hits record levels, it’s critical that we act now to protect these benefits,” said Grijalva.
“Student loan debt is one of the greatest barriers to economic mobility in this country – an albatross around the neck that often weighs heaviest as people enter what should be their golden years. In a society and workforce that prizes higher education, we should be doing everything we can to make these pursuits more affordable and accessible, instead of the reason someone cannot buy a home, save for retirement, or pay for lifesaving medical care later in life,” said Schiff. “We should eliminate as much student debt as we can for everyone, but especially for those who have spent decades of their lives working to pay it off. This bill would ensure that instead of triaging their benefits, seniors and disabled individuals can focus more on their health, their families, and thriving in their best years.”
“Student debt is a national crisis,” said Bowman. “Far too many Americans have spent years of their lives faced with the terrible choice between paying off their loans and putting food on the table, paying for childcare, or paying medical bills. This is especially the case for our most vulnerable communities. While President Biden’s student loan cancellation plan is an important first step, it does not go far enough especially for the millions of seniors and people with disabilities who face crippling debt. The Student Loan Relief for Medicare and Social Security Recipients Act will help these communities escape from the burden of a predatory student loan system. And I will continue to fight to cancel all student debt.”
“The Student Loan Relief for Medicare and Social Security Recipients Act is long overdue. The inability of Medicare and Social Security recipients to repay their student loans is an issue that burdens Americans of all ages. However, it is especially impactful on those 50 years and older, who account for 23 percent of student loan debt,” said Cherfilus-McCormick. “Many seniors face economic hardship as they attempt to repay their student loans and loans incurred by their children, often deferring health care needs and retirement in some cases. I am proud to cosponsor this much-needed legislation that will provide relief for millions of disabled and aging Americans.”
The legislation is co-sponsored by Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), André Carson (D-Ind.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), and Marie Newman (D-Ill.), and is endorsed by the California Alliance for Retired Americans, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Justice in Aging, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), and Social Security Works.
To read the full bill text, click here.