HomeCampusAAPI students get help with student loans in California

AAPI students get help with student loans in California

By Sacha Wedner, AsAmNews Intern

Whether you are currently in college, or earned your degree, dealing with student loans and student loan debt was a task nobody would describe as easy or relaxing. This already intimidating process has been made even more intimidating thanks to post COVID-19 inflation, especially in California. In the Golden State, 4 million Californians collectively owe more than $148 billion in student loans, the highest in the United States.

Fortunately, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI), has provided an answer to this current problem. This month, the DFPI launched the Student Loan Empowerment (SLE) Network, a web that connects the 4 million Californian student loan borrowers to community-based organizations. The SLE Network will help loan borrowers better understand what types of loans they have, if they qualify for any form of loan forgiveness, consolidation gaps, and how to identify predatory loan scams.

In an interview with AsAmNews, DFPI spokesperson Suzanne Martindale said “the Student Loan Empowerment Network was created to connect borrowers with free resources to help navigate their student loans.”.

“The current student loan system makes it nearly impossible for borrowers to understand the rights and benefits they’re entitled to by law. Reducing student loan debt can positively impact California’s economy, and this network provides Californians with resources they need and can trust.”

The process started in 2022, with the DFPI working closely with Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California State Legislature to discuss methods of supporting Californians with student loans as nationwide preparations were made to resume federal student loan payments when the COVID-19 pandemic ended.

Newsom and State Legislature helped the DFPI to develop a grant program to invest in community- based organizations that could provide direct access to students seeking to pay off their loans.

Logo of Student Loan Empowerment Network g
Department of Financial Protection and Innovation graphic

Two of those network organizations include the Koreatown Youth & Community Center (KYCC), and The Cambodian Family. The KYCC, dedicated to supporting families and children in Koreatown with education, health, housing, and finances, serves the needs of the Korean American population in the greater Los Angeles area. The Cambodian Family assists immigrant and refugee families in providing “the opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills, and desires for creating health and well-being in their lives.”

To the DFPI, partnering with organizations such as KYCC and The Cambodian Family were instrumental in making sure that the SLE Network was as accessible as possible.

“We are proud to be able to invest resources in community-based organizations like these with deep experience in helping their local communities improve their overall financial health, and now with these grants they will further specialize in student loan-focused counseling,” said Martindale.

“While the Student Loan Empowerment Network is available to everyone, we at DFPI understand that some communities are impacted by student loan debt more than others. We want to ensure that all Californians, regardless of their background, feel supported and empowered to tackle their student loans with their community right behind them.”

Rick Kim, KYCC’s Director of Community Economic Development, acknowledges that student loans often impact communities of color disproportionately, AAPI communities included.

“Given the demographics of residents in our area, our long-standing commitment to youth and their families it made perfect sense for us to apply to join the SLE network.”, Kim told AsAmNews. “We are looking forward to providing immediate relief to those that we can, learn and access more resources for our community, and hopefully advocate for changes that lead to improving the financial stability and resiliency of our clients.”.

Vattana Peong and Sophia Chhoeng, the Executive Director and Director Youth of Immigration, and Civic Engagement Programs, also mentioned that a significant amount of AAPI students are first generation college students that have to use on loans to pursue higher education.

“This holds true for students of Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong, and Vietnamese students whose parents are refugees and came to the United States with very little wealth and resources.”, they jointly said in an interview via email with AsAmNews. “These students mostly did not have the benefit of having access to individuals who had already navigated college and the loan repayment system”.

Peong and Chhoeng also mentioned that a lot of these first-generation AAPI graduates have to make a living, not for themselves, but to help lift their families out of poverty as well, with student loans being a big financial burden.

“As a nonprofit organization, we have helped many of our employees on their path to loan forgiveness. Therefore, it is our hope that, by partnering with nonprofit organizations like ours and by being a part of the SLE network, we can also help educate AAPI students about the resources and assistance that is available to them.”

There are also still gaps to fill in the road to solve student debt. For starters, according to feedback to the DFPI from Californians with student loans, “There is a lot of confusion out there about the student loan programs and what sorts of benefits people are eligible to pursue,” said Martindale. In addition, the information surrounding loans and the loan process needs to be more concrete and easier to understand for all students. In addition, grace periods could be extended, interest rates could be more equitable, and the cost of tuition should be lowered.

Regardless, many see this is a step in the right direction in helping those affected by the pressures of student debt, including AAPI communities. ” We hope that the work we all are attempting to do under the SLE network will create a new normal for those seeking Student Loan Assistance.”, stated Peong and Chhoeng. “In addition, it is our hope that the SLE network will be well known as a place for legitimate resources and assistance. Our ultimate goal is that every borrower will feel supported every step of the way and become empowered by using our SLE network.”.

Student loan borrowers looking for help via the SLE Network can call (888) 774-2227 or fill out an intake form at studentloanhelp.dfpi.ca.gov.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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