Sending Office: Honorable Jose E. Serrano
Sent By:
Marcus.Garza@mail.house.gov

        Request for Signature(s)

Current signers: Serrano, Velázquez, Plaskett, González-Colón, Conyers, Espaillat, Higgins, Garamendi, Johnson (GA), Murphy (FL), Lowenthal, Shea-Porter, Carson, Pallone, Grijalva, Lofgren, Wasserman Schultz, Neal,
Rice (NY), Beatty, Nadler, Matsui, Clarke, Crowley, Norton Meng, Chu, Jeffries, Soto, Luján, Jayapal, Gutiérrez, Wilson (FL), Roybal-Allard, Kaptur, Khanna

Dear Colleague,

Please join us in sending the letter below to Education Secretary DeVos urging her to do more to help federal student loan borrowers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as they cope with the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. To date, the Department
has only provided guidance on its website urging those affected to contact their student loan servicers to ask that they be placed in forbearance, even though interest will continue to accrue while those loans remain in forbearance. Given that both Puerto
Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands continue to experience widespread power outages and little-to-no ability to communicate, more must be done. The Department should provide immediate assistance in proportion to the devastation caused by these two storms. That
is why we are calling on Secretary DeVos to:

  • Urge servicers to explicitly notify borrowers they qualify for forbearance, and if they qualify for the interest-free REPAYE program.
  • Request authority in the upcoming supplemental request to automatically enroll borrowers affected by Hurricanes Maria and Irma into interest-free forbearance.
  • Require servicers to have Spanish-speaking representatives available to serve these borrowers and provide them with any information in English and Spanish.

We hope you will join our efforts to help give our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S.Virgin Islands some relief as they move forward with rebuilding their lives and communities. Contact Marcus Garza (Marcus.Garza@mail.house.gov
or ext. 5-4346) with any questions or to sign onto the letter. The deadline to cosign is 2:00 pm.

Sincerely,

José E. Serrano                      Nydia M. Velázquez                 Stacey E. Plaskett                Jenniffer González-Colón

Member of Congress             Member of Congress                Member of Congress           Member of Congress

 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have recently experienced the worst natural disasters to hit the islands in almost a century. Shortly after these storms made landfall, the devastation has been so widespread, leaving most of the islands’ residents
without power, potable water, food, transportation, or the ability to communicate reliably with loved ones. The schools in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were not spared from damage. Some schools are still inaccessible and others are still serving the
over 9,100 refugees still living in shelters.  

While other federal agencies continue to grapple with response efforts in order to save lives, restore power, and rebuild, the U.S. Department of Education must not forget its moral obligation to grant relief to the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans
and Virgin Islanders that currently hold a federal student loan.[1] To date, the Department has made little to no effort to provide any administrative reprieve to the islands’ large population facing student loan
repayment notices as they cope with the loss of loved ones, the destruction of their homes, work layoffs and furloughs.

The U.S. Department of Education released guidance on its website urging borrowers in the affected areas to call their student loan servicers to halt student loan payments temporarily- albeit, while interest continue to accrue.[2]
To ensure borrowers are not accruing interest while in forbearance, we urge the Department to do more.

Under current regulation, subsidized loan borrowers who have deferred their loans due to economic hardship are not required to make payments of loan principal and interest does not accrue. On its website, the Department should urge borrowers to submit an
economic hardship request. Additionally, the Secretary should send guidance to loan servicers advising them to tell all borrowers living in affected areas of this option.

Borrowers with subsidized loans can also benefit from an interest-free option. Under the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) repayment plan, the Department already provides an interest subsidy on unsubsidized loans. Under this benefit, up to half of the interest
that accrues on unsubsidized loans during periods of negative amortization may be subsidized. It is possible that many borrowers do not know of this benefit and thus, may not request to switch plans. We urge you to notify borrowers of this benefit in REPAYE.

Additionally, we urge the Department to provide borrowers with any information in English and Spanish and require the servicers to have Spanish-speaking representatives available to serve these borrowers.

The lack of electricity and internet capabilities post-storm will significantly delay the take-up of these benefits. Given the inability of American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to communicate with their servicers, the Department of
Education should include in its request authority to automatically enroll all borrowers affected by Hurricanes Maria and Irma into forbearance. Moreover, while borrowers are in forbearance, interest should not be accruing. An interest-free mandatory administrative
forbearance is the best way to ensure borrowers are not adversely affected during this difficult time.  

The future of the people and economy in these U.S. territories depend on our complete and unequivocal support. We urge the Department of Education to do more to protect student loan borrowers as they continue to piece together their lives in the wake of
devastation resulting from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. We thank you for your immediate response to this crisis and stand ready to help in any way that we can. 

Sincerely,

 


[1] Federal Student Loan Portfolio, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education, October 4, 2017.
https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/about/data-center/student/portfolio.

[2] Natural Disasters: Information for Affected Individuals, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education, October 4, 2017.
https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/about/announcements/disaster#harvey.

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