SS Benefits & Enforcement
In the news this a.m., a study by SmartMoney on the withholding of Social Security benefits from retirees in order to pay either their own or their children’s student loan debt:
According to government data, compiled by the Treasury Department at the request of SmartMoney.com, the federal government is withholding money from a rapidly growing number of Social Security recipients who have fallen behind on federal student loans. From January through August 6, the government reduced the size of roughly 115,000 retirees’ Social Security checks on those grounds. That’s nearly double the pace of the department’s enforcement in 2011; it’s up from around 60,000 cases in all of 2007 and just 6 cases in 2000.
When I read of actions undertaken by federal agencies, federal contractors, and private lenders to force student loan payments from cash strapped borrowers, I can’t help but think of the writings of Charles Dickens. Punitive, draconian methods imposed on the disabled, the deceased, and now retirees all but suggest Victorian views on debt and debtors.
It seems to me there has been no deep or systemic examination of student loan debt. Sure there have been alterations in the law that place a few bandaids here and there to ease the burden, but the real question is ignored: What of the right to education and society’s contribution in enabling this right to all its members?
As a teacher – and this so deeply troubles me – I wonder if the emphasis on the affordability of education and the ability to assume student loan debt discourages the best and the brightest students from pursuing higher education. I hope these serious problems are addressed by the Obama and Romney campaigns. Student loan debt is social problem best understood in terms of generations.