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When your Social Security check disappears because of an old student loan

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Naomia Davis hasn’t been able to talk on the phone since 2004. The 80-year-old Brooklynite was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than 10 years ago and can no longer read.

Despite all of this, the government still expects her to pay back a federal student loan she took out in the 1980s to attend cosmetology school. And so every month, $134 of the $894 Davis gets in Social Security—her only income, except for Medicaid—is garnished by the government and put toward paying back her debt.

“How can you take money from someone who is not in her right mind?” asked Monica Arroyo-Horne, Davis’s 55-year-old daughter, who now legally controls her mother’s finances. “It’s horrible, I feel bad for her. I sit here and often wonder what if I wasn’t here in her life.”

After sending letters to government agencies and local council members in an effort to stop the government from garnishing her mother’s benefits, Arroyo-Horne turned to lawyers at the Brooklyn Office of the Aging, a division of New York City’s Legal Aid Society to try and get the Department of Education to forgive the loan. The application has been pending since late last year and they’re still waiting to hear back.

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