SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Starting this month, the US Department of Education will begin forgiving student loans to Americans who are permanently disabled. It’s something that’s always been available in America, but in August, the Biden Administration announced it is getting rid of the lengthy application and wait period typically attached to this process.
The announcement is welcome news to people like Omar Waliye, a taxi cab driver in Sioux Falls.
“I can drive maybe three, four hours a day,” Waliye said.
It’s a big career change from his former job on a production line.
“My back is really hard, I can’t stand more than 15 minutes, it just hurts,” Waliye said.
A major injury sent Omar through two back surgeries.
“There is a simulator in my back, a battery in my back,” Waliye said. “Sometimes I just call myself like half robot.”
After his first back surgery, he decided to go to school since he’d have to find a career that didn’t require standing or heavy lifting.
“I was studying information technology, but unfortunately I get sick and had to drop out,” Omar said.
Right as Omar was about to start his second semester of college, he was diagnosed with cancer.
“The tumor in chest and through my throat and ear and neck,” Waliye said.
He lost his hearing and a lot of weight through chemo and radiation treatments.
“Every single day I lose weight, I cannot eat or drink anything, just stuff through the port,” he said.
Omar still deals with side effects every day that make working difficult and paying back his student loan nearly impossible.
“I can’t pay that bill, I’m not able to work like other people do,” Waliye said.
“These are the people with the most significant disabilities, they’ve been eligible for social security benefits, which is a very high standard a disability to meet. You have to prove that you can’t work for at least 12 months or longer,” Disability Rights South Dakota Executive Director Tim Neyhart said.
For years, Disability Rights South Dakota has helped many people who become severely disabled after going to school get student debt forgiveness or forbearance.
“If someone asked for student loan forgiveness, would have to go through a fairly lengthy process of applying and proving that they’re not able to work,” Neyhart said.
But this new change will eliminate the lengthy application process and three-year waiting period normally required, helping hundreds of thousands of Americans like Omar get quicker access to federal student debt forgiveness.
“The burden of those unpaid loans, particularly student loans, prevents people from moving forward in lots of different areas of their life,” Neyhart said. “Having a clean loan record for things like accessing apartments or houses, even rental agreements often have back ground checks related to loan history or credit history.”
An extra load, Omar is hopeful he will soon no longer have to carry.
“It just really helps me a lot; it is a huge burden for me,” Omar said.
The US Department of Education anticipates the new change will impact more than 320,000 Americans who became disabled or had their disability worsen during or after college.
Neyhart says if you have a federal student loan and you’re already on social security disability, contact your provider to see if this rule change will impact your situation.