June 25 (UPI) -- Over 150,000 former for-profit college students filed suit Tuesday against U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos over halting their claims for debt relief.
The former students claim that since Devos began her tenure with the department in February of 2017, she has halted students claims for discharge from student loan debt. The students claim they are eligible for such relief based on the school's misconduct -- misleading the students or violating state laws related to their education.
At least 158,110 are members of the proposed class in the lawsuit.
Before Devos took over as education secretary, the Department of Education had started adjudicating claims, "as it was legally obligated to do," according to the Project on Predatory Student Lending, which is part of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, one of the attorneys for plaintiffs.
The department had approved nearly 28,000 claims in a six-month period prior to Devos' confirmation.
However, since then, the department has halted all processing of remaining claims dating back to 2015 when over 200,000 former students called for the debt relief.
Then-President Barack Obama launched the program to help students apply for loan forgiveness if the school misled them or engaged in other misconduct with the collapse of for-profit colleges, such as Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes, sparking many claims.
In particular, the suit points out that more than 160,000 students have filed claims that their school has defrauded them, and the department has failed to grant or deny a single application since June 2018.
"Its decision to keep these 160,000 students in limbo -- some for over four years -- has damaged students' credit and limited their access to federal student aid," plaintiffs argued in the suit. "It has caused significant emotional distress, associated physical harm and a loss of wealth and opportunity that students will never recover."
A 2017 audit by the department's Office of Inspector General found that government staff were instructed "not to submit additional claims," as policies were being reviewed under the new Trump administration.