Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Plight of Current Borrowers: An Appeal For Immediate Relief -Testimonials

Here's the next installment - "Testimonials" - from my paper entitled, The Plight of Current Borrowers: An Appeal For Immediate Relief, which was included in the recent conference hosted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Again, the paper can be read in its entirety here. The first installment was posted on June 14th, 2010. In addition, the following post is just the first part from this particular section.

I should also add, the Mr. J. recently informed me that he's not a Mister, but rather a Ms. Since this paper was already delivered, I didn't change the gender. Plus, that error doesn't change the weight of the claims.

Part II: Testimonials

The Real Face(s) Of The Student Lending Crisis

The following testimonials were collected from a number of sources, such as the testimony of Brett Weiss and Deanne Loonin for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Judiciary on Commercial and Administrative Law,  and so forth. However, the majority of the testimonials were culled from my own advocacy work. This research has entailed interviewing and listening to hundreds upon hundreds of stories from student loan debtors. When these voices are situated within the history of student lending industry (from its emergence as a Government entity in the mid-1960s, to its eventual privatization in the 1990s, up to the present), the scope and depth of this crisis is alarming.   

The indentured educated class is heterogeneous. Their ages and gender differ, as do their geographic locations. They are scattered from coast to coast in the U.S. Not only that, many indentured educated citizens now live worlds away from home (many have left the U.S. for wages that allow them to escape that dreadful and risky “paycheck-to-paycheck” type of living).  They are all united, however, in being indentured – and often for the rest of their lives – to their respective student lenders. The following testimonials have been organized into 4 categories: (1) desperate parents of children who have recently graduated; (2) recent graduates; (3) debtors with their own families; and (4) older individuals who are contending with health issues and so forth.

Frantic Parents

After several months of advocating for student debtors, parents of debtors began to get in touch with me. Moreover, most of these parents had not co-signed for loans, but are enormously concerned about the financial and mental well-being of their children. The all shared a frantic tone, exemplified by Mrs.
L words of desperation: 

I am writing you personally because I am not at all smart in the way Washington works . . . . But in all my reading of your work[s] . . . I know only that we -with Student loan debt - are getting the shaft. I say we because as a mother of one of those students I know full well it will be and is my problem as much as his. Every day reading your site I find one more thing that I have been so blind to. I just feel there are too many loop holes and unpublished facts. Too many under the table, off the record, you owe me a favor deals on Capitol Hill.

How do we hit them in the heart and make this a front page, you have been exposed sort of event? I am ready. . . . My son is hurting so bad, mentally, physically and his life at 26 has stopped being productive at all. He works in a job he hates, to make a payment on a degree that he loves, but has no hope at all of getting.

The employers turn him down now with the excuse that it's not the lack of experience, but now he has been out of school 2 years and they feel he has forgotten most of what he learned in the 4.5 years of college.

For God's sake when will he ever catch a break? I cry about this daily. I read your site every night hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel. But . . . I think the light has gone out.

Mrs. L’s son, like many recent graduates, feels he has a useless degree. The career he had hoped to pursue once he graduated from college is now beyond his reach. Instead of feeling like a productive member of society, Mrs. L’s son works for ten dollars an hour in a mall and feels as useless as the piece of paper that he received upon graduating. He feels ashamed because his wages make it impossible for him to pay his student loan debts, so he must rely upon his parents, who are kind enough to help him cover his bills, along with his living expenses.

Recent Graduates and Struggling Individuals with Families

Recent data in a paper by the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank located in Washington, D.C., reveals that the graduating class of 2010 will be encountering the worst job market since the end of World War II. Much like Mrs. L’s son, these younger graduates are being crushed by their loans. This study also shows “that unemployment rates for both college graduates and non-graduates younger than 25 are nearly double their pre-recession levels.” Recently, a young grad wrote about his circumstances, and that fact that his grandmother, who co-signed on his loans, is now receiving harassing phone calls from his lender, AES.

Mr. J expressed anguish that his grandmother was being called regularly by AES:

My grandmother is retired, and gets social security checks . . . we sent in the paper work to show that neither one of us was working. After exceeding my FORBEARANCE time, I was finally told my only option was the graduate [sic] repayment [option].

The repayment option seems to be working for Mr. J; however, AES continues to call his grandmother.

Mr. J continues:

Now the phone calls, and the letters . . . they called my granny and told her that, she needs to make a payment . . . She told them she was retired, and the lady said, “Well mam [sic], you signed the paperwork.” The last time I spoke with them, I recorded [it]. The girl basically said there was nothing I could do but pay. She put in my account, that I did not have a job, and my concerns with them calling my grandmother, and my concerns about her health. Then the girl tells me, well, you don’t have to worry about garnishing your grandmother’s checks until after 30 days . . . Then she continued to tell me how they were going to harass me. So I say to her, “Look Rebecca . . . I’m going to have to pay AES for the rest of my life. Why can’t you drop the $168 and let me deal with the $50 . . . I mean hell . . . help me, so I can help you get your money."

I am so frustrated and stressed. Between them, and finding a job... I feel like I will never surface—I will continue sinking in this black abyss called the ‘American Dream [my emphasis].’ I don’t understand. I don’t want to answer their calls, because this will get me nowhere.

For those who co-signed on student loans, the calls from the lender never cease, just as way they never stop calling the actual debtors. One of my readers is called every single day, seven days a week at six o’clock in the morning by Sallie Mae. Much like other lenders’ harassment tactics, they are relentless, and refuse to listen to the borrowers. When this reader receives the call the same conversation ensues. Even though he’s unable to make the payment, and they are unwilling to negotiate a deal with him, they still call. To make matters worse, one rarely, if ever, speaks to the same representative, and these employees refuse to give out their full names. They’ll repeatedly say, “I’m not at liberty to give you that information.” Meanwhile, they have full information of the debtor’s personal information.

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