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Loans, scholarship office assists hurricane-affected students

 


Loans, scholarship office assists hurricane-affected students

Sept. 26, 2005        

By Vicki Brown*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the United Methodist Church’s loans and scholarships office began combing through records to determine which students receiving financial aid might have had their studies or their jobs interrupted by the storm.

“We wanted to take a proactive approach,” said Angella Current-Felder, executive director of the Office of Loans and Scholarships at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The staff moved to defer for six months loan payments owed by about 100 borrowers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the three states devastated by the storm, she said. Most creditors were delaying payments for three months for borrowers in the affected areas, but loans and scholarship staff wanted to be as generous as possible.

Collections staff mailed letters notifying borrowers and their cosigners of the deferment. No interest will be charged during the six-month deferment period.

“It’s not clear if former students making loan payments can even receive mail, so we sent letters about the deferment to the cosigner, too,” Current-Felder said.

Arrangements were being made to stop automatic draft payments from borrowers in the affected area who were already paying off loans. “If they lost their job due to the hurricane, we don’t want to be dipping into their bank accounts,” Current-Felder said.

Staff began e-mailing scholarship recipients who were enrolled at any affected schools, such as United Methodist-related Dillard University or Tulane, both in New Orleans.  Scholarship payments that have not yet been made can go to the school where the student is now enrolled.

“We wanted to do something to help the students so they don’t have to worry about their scholarships or loans. We wanted to make it easier on them as they dealt with the hurricane,” said James Harding, assistant executive director for loans administration and operations at the board.

Harding said the office wants to make sure students receiving loans get the funds they need to stay in school.

Annually, students are required to recertify their enrollment status to avoid going into repayment. For students affected by Hurricane Katrina, the office has decided to recertify automatically their student-deferred status until May. This is being done because many will be unable to obtain certification from the schools they attend.

Colleges and universities that have accepted evacuee students will be notified that even though no new scholarship funds are available, these students have priority in receiving loans.

The decline in congregations giving to special Sunday offerings has wreaked havoc on the number of scholarships the United Methodist Church’s higher education agency can give to eligible applicants, according to Current-Felder. The Office of Loans and Scholarships had to turn away 300 eligible applicants last year.

In an earlier UMNS report, Current-Felder attributed the financial shortfall in scholarship awards to a decline in giving to the three special Sunday offerings that enable scholarships to United Methodist students —World Communion Sunday, which provides scholarships for ethnic minorities; United Methodist Student Day, which enables undergraduates to attend United Methodist-related schools; and Native American Ministries Sunday, which provides scholarships for Native Americans pursing master of divinity degrees.

Higher education officials are urging United Methodists to remember World Communion Sunday, coming up Oct. 2, and United Methodist Student Day, Nov. 27. Native American Ministries Sunday will be April 30.

For more information, contact the Loans and Scholarships Office at (615) 340-7342 or e-mail James Harding at jharding@gbhem.org.

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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