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COMMENTARY: Education Department helps loan servicers instead of borrowers

NNPA NEWSWIRE — …a newly-released audit report finds fault with how the Department of Education (Department) is managing both its loan funds and its 15 contract student loan servicers. According to an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report released on February 12, “borrowers might not have been protected from poor services, and taxpayers might not have been protected from improper payments.”

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Newswire Contributor

In an increasingly competitive global economy, highly skilled workers have a sharp advantage in securing and keeping employment. And as technological advances result in life-long learning in many occupations, many worker-students turn to federal student aid, the largest source of funding for higher education, to expand and/or hone their value in the marketplace.

But a newly-released audit report finds fault with how the Department of Education (Department) is managing both its loan funds and its 15 contract student loan servicers. According to an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report released on February 12, “borrowers might not have been protected from poor services, and taxpayers might not have been protected from improper payments.”

That statement covers a range of student loan concerns and include loan payments, loan consolidation, principal and interest payments and repayment options like income-driven repayment plans and forbearance. But its content takes direct aim at the Federal Student Aid (AID) division of the Department, charged with being a thrifty steward of the billions of dollars dedicated to higher education.

Could it be that the current student loan crisis is facing the same threat today that was rampant a decade ago during the mortgage crisis? Are borrowers’ payments being properly applied? Or are unchecked and unaccountable loan servicers bilking consumers into unwarranted costs and payments?

I’m betting that the 44 million borrowers who together owe more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt seriously want to know.

“FSA’s not holding servicers accountable could lead to servicers being paid more than they should be (the contracts with servicers allow FSA to recover amounts paid for loans not serviced in compliance with requirements),” states the report.

“FSA management rarely used available contract accountability provisions to hold servicers accountable for instances of noncompliance,” continued the report. “By not holding servicers accountable for instances of noncompliance with Federal loan servicing requirements, FSA did not provide servicers with an incentive to take actions to mitigate the risk of continued servicer noncompliance that could harm students.”

According to OIG, all student loan servicer contracts are supposed to be awarded on the basis of performance measures in five weighted areas.  Two factors, borrower satisfaction and the percentage of borrowers who were not more than five days delinquent, together account for up to 60 of the contractors overall score. Servicers are also evaluated on the percentage of borrowers whose loans were more than 90 days late but less than 271, and a percentage who were more than 270 days delinquent but less than 361, and an FSA employee satisfaction survey.

Although the Department has 15 student loan servicer contracts, four were the biggest beneficiaries during the OIG’s audit period. As of September 30, 2017, federal student loan debt was $1.147 trillion with 93 percent of those loans assigned to PHEAA ($319 billion), Great Lakes ($236 billion), Navient ($215 billion), and Nelnet ($180 billion).

In February 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sued Navient Corporation and two of its subsidiaries for allegedly using shortcuts and deception to illegally cheat 12 million borrowers out of their rights to lower loan repayments. These practices, according to CFPB, led to an additional $4 billion in borrower costs.

Much of the unnecessary costs were the result of Navient’s widespread use of forbearance that boosted corporate profits by minimizing time spent advising distressed borrowers. For example, three-years of deferment on $30,000 in student loans would cost a borrower an additional $6,742.

Navient also had another dubious distinction. In 2017, more consumers filed complaints about Navient than any other student loan servicer. Complainants identified dealing with the servicer or lender as the key issue, compared to only 34 percent whose problems were based on an inability to pay their loans.

“The Inspector General’s damning revelations that the Department of Education failed to track all instances of non-compliance or to hold servicers accountable for errors demonstrates its lack of commitment to protecting student loan borrowers,”, said Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project. “Unfortunately, this revelation is consistent with the Department’s prior actions, which have repeatedly put the interests of big business ahead of the interests of student loan borrowers.

Many consumer advocates would agree with the Trump Administration’s mounting actions that favor businesses before consumers. The recently-announced rule reversal on payday loans is another example. In 2018, guidance that protected people of color from discrimination in auto loan financing is yet another.

“Policies and practices must assure student success while minimizing costly debt errors that become unnecessary burdens,” said Whitney Barkley-Denney, a policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending.

“In this past year, Department of Education has justified its aggressive steps to shield student loan servicers from liability by claiming that it rigorously oversees its servicers,” added Yu. “This report from the Inspector General demonstrates that claim is false.”

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications deputy director. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

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Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.
The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Entertainment and Culture Editor

The documentary She Had A Dream by Tunisian filmmaker Raja Amari premieres on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange series tonight at 8 p.m. EST on WORLD CHANNEL. Season 14 of the acclaimed documentary series captures Black artists and activists shaping and reclaiming culture, advocating for change and mobilizing for brighter futures. She Had A Dream offers an intimate portrayal of one young Black Tunisian woman’s quest for political office and her fight against racism and oppression in a society that often seeks to overlook both.

The documentary follows Ghofrane, a 20-something Black woman from Tunisia as she walks the path of self-discovery of young adulthood while running for political office in a homeland where many still view her as an outsider.

Watch the trailer below:

A dedicated, charismatic activist and a modern, free-speaking woman, Ghofrane in many ways is the embodiment of contemporary Tunisian political hopes still alive years after the Arab Spring. She Had A Dream follows Ghofrane as she works to conquer her own self-doubts while attempting to persuade close friends and complete strangers to vote for her. As audiences follow her campaign, they also follow the dichotomies of her life as a woman striving for a role in politics in the Arab world and as a Black person in a country where racism is prevalent, yet often denied.

“The 14th season of AfroPoP shines a light on the collective power, strength and resilience of Black people and movements around the world,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, AfroPoP executive producer. “Viewers will see artists use their platforms to push for progress and human rights and see ‘ordinary’ people do the remarkable in the interest of justice.”

Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.

She Had A Dream airs on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET on WORLD Channel and begins streaming on worldchannel.org at the same time.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is presented by Black Public Media and WORLD Channel. For more information, visit worldchannel.org or blackpublicmedia.org.

This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena.
The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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BBC Africa is reporting Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is facing a water shortage because of changing weather patterns and aging water facilities. The article reports, “Residents in informal communities like Kibra pay private vendors for water, meaning they now control the supply and access to water in the community.” The privatization of water access has led to an increase in the exploitation of women and girls in exchange for water.

“Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena. Check out the 2018 ANEW documentary short below:

The water crisis and the sexual exploitation of girls and women as a result of the water crisis shows no signs of slowing down.

To read more about this crisis, visit BBC Africa‘s series of articles and videos on Kenya’s water crisis and the Water Integrity Network’s (WIN) study on sextortion.

This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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#WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright

THE AFRO — Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.
The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Maya Pottiger, Word in Black

It’s no surprise that we’re living through difficult times. After two years, we’re still in a global pandemic, which has predominantly impacted people of color. In addition, Book bans, attacks on critical race theory, and partisan political fights target everything from Black youths’ sexuality, to history, to health.

And we’re seeing the effects.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.

For a variety of reasons — ongoing stigma, lack of insurance, most accessible — Black students often rely on the mental health services offered at school.Outside of a mental health-specific practice, Black students were nearly 600 times as likely to get mental health help in an academic setting compared to other options, according to 2020 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In fact, mental health services in schools have been steadily gaining popularity among students since 2009, before dropping slightly in 2020 when the school year was interrupted, according to the SAMHSA report. As a result, the rate of students receiving mental health care through school decreased by 14 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

So how are schools changing the way they address and prioritize mental health — and the specific needs of Black students — since 2020?

The Renewed Focus on Mental Health

For school-aged people, the majority of their time is spent in a school building — about eight hours per day, 10 months out of the year. To help address mental health during academic hours, schools are trying to focus on social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills. This includes teaching kids how to be in touch with their emotions and protect against adverse mental health outcomes.

But it’s been difficult.

Though there’s been more conversation, the implementation is challenging, says Dr. Kizzy Albritton, an associate professor of school psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. There was already a shortage of school-based mental health professionals before the pandemic, which has now been exacerbated, as have mental health issues. In addition, though schools clearly recognize the importance of mental health, they aren’t always provided adequate resources.

“Unless there are more resources funneled into the school system, we’re going to see a continued catch-up issue across the board,” Albritton says. “And, unfortunately, our Black students are going to continue to suffer the most.”

In a survey of high school principals and students, Education Week Research Center found discrepancies in how principals and students viewed a school’s mental health services. While 86 percent of the principals said their schools provided services, only about 66 percent of students agreed. The survey did point out it’s possible the school offers these services and students aren’t aware. The survey also found Black and Latinx students were less likely than their peers to say their schools offered services.

Dr. Celeste Malone, the president-elect of the National Association for School Psychologists and a Howard University associate professor, says she hasn’t previously seen this degree of attention to mental health in schools.

“I see that a lot in my role for a school psychology graduate program: the outreach and people contacting me with openings where they didn’t exist previously,” Malone says. “With this increased push in funding to hire more, that’s definitely a very, very positive movement.”

Mental Health Is Not One Size Fits All

Just like with many aspects of health, Black youths need different mental health support from their peers of other races. They need a counselor who understands their lived experiences, like microaggressions and other forms of discrimination or racism, without the student having to explain.

For example, in order to best address the specific mental health needs of Black students, districts need to provide information breaking down mental health stigmas; focus on hiring Black counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals; and fund anti-racist and trauma-informed mental health practices, according to the Center for American Progress.

While she hears a lot of talk, Albritton says she isn’t seeing widespread evidence of these solutions in practice.

“There needs to be a willingness, first of all, to understand that our Black students, their needs look a lot different,” Albritton says. School officials need to understand where Black students are coming from — that their families and households experience systemic and structural racism, which are known to trigger anxiety and depression. The effects of the racial wealth gap also play a role, from the neighborhood kids are living in, to the schools they can attend to the impacts on their health. Students might be bringing worries about these challenges to school, which could be reflected in their behavior. This is why, Albritton says, it’s crucial to also work with students’ families.

The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright appeared first on AFRO American Newspapers .

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