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Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on January 9th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 45 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 45

Residents impacted by disasters could get student loan relief

By Kasey Bubnash

College students who were impacted by Santa Barbara County's recent natural disasters could have their monthly federal student loan payments temporarily suspended or reduced. Some already have.

Any current or former college student who borrowed a federal student loan and is currently involved in the repayment process could be eligible for a forbearance if impacted by 2017's wildfires or subsequent mudslides. Those who lost homes, saw major property damage, and those who lost wages during or after the natural disasters could be eligible, according to Michael Miller, UC Santa Barbara's assistant vice chancellor for enrollment services. 

"Last year I worked with a handful of former UC Santa Barbara students who were so impacted, and the Department of Education was more than willing to award a short-term forbearance," Miller wrote in an email to the Sun, adding that the financial relief usually lasts for about three to four months. 

If a forbearance is granted, a borrower's monthly loan payments are temporarily suspended or reduced, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Principal payments are postponed but interest continues to accrue. Unpaid interest that accrues during the forbearance period will be added to the principal balance of the loan, increasing the total amount owed. 

That's the one major catch that Miller said borrowers applying should take into consideration. 

Otherwise, the process is simple. Miller said the online application process takes about 15 minutes, and applicants are notified of the final decision within five to seven business days via email. Navigating student loan repayment can often be challenging, but Miller said "this process is user friendly and efficient based on my experience."


STILL RECOVERING
Many Santa Barbara County residents who were impacted by recent wildfires or the mudslides (pictured) are struggling economically.
FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT UDKOW

Although the financial relief is only temporary, Miller said a forbearance can be helpful for those struggling to pay off student loans during any economically difficult situation, especially through disasters. 

Barbara Andersen, chief strategy officer for the Santa Barbara Foundation, oversees the foundation's Community Disaster Relief Fund and has more than a decade of emergency management experience. 

Andersen said numerous Santa Barbara County residents were impacted by recent natural disasters, and in a variety of ways that, in many cases, led to financial instability. 

The Thomas Fire and mudslides resulted in several deaths–23 lives were lost–and some of those who died were the breadwinners in their households. Even with reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and insurance payments, Andersen said that many of those surviving individuals will not be able to return to the way of life they lived before the disasters. 

Many others were displaced, Andersen said, with their primary residences being destroyed by the fires or debris flows. Rebuilding and reconstruction could take months, if not years, and relocating and rebuilding both create additional and usually unplanned expenses. Other business owners and employees were unable to go to work for extended periods of time because of the ash, fire, and mud damage to many businesses, road closures, and evacuation orders. 

Many employees went without wages for weeks, their wages were decreased substantially, or their jobs were eliminated altogether after a business closure. 

Andersen also serves on the county's Community Long Term Recovery Group, a network of organizations committed to providing coordinated recovery efforts to residents impacted by the fires and mudslides. She said the group is still continuing to process funding requests for disaster survivors. 

Many applicants are still unemployed, were able to return to work but are earning a lower wage, were displaced and cannot afford the deposit for a new rental unit, or are underinsured and do not have enough resources to rebuild.

"Thousands of individuals experienced the economic impact of these disasters," Andersen said, "and when it comes to also having to pay back student loans, any ability to defer payments is tremendously helpful for these individuals." For general financial assistance, visit 211santabarbaracounty.org/long-term-recovery/, and to apply for help with student loans, visit myfedloan.org. 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash writes School Scene each week. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at mail@santamariasun.com. 




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