October 20, 2017

Senator Warren, Colleagues Urge ED to Help College Students & Student Loan Borrowers Affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Almost 250,000 College Students Displaced, While Two Thirds of Schools in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Remain Closed

Text of the letter available here (PDF)

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today joined Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and seven other senators to call on the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  

"Nearly 250,000 college students have been displaced by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the middle of their academic year," the senators wrote today in a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. "We respectfully request you work closely with students and institutions in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to ensure students have the ability to continue their education without having to worry about the stress of how they will have to pay for it."

According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately two-thirds of the 246 schools in Puerto Rico and the USVI remain closed as the islands struggle to restore power after the storms.

"Nearly 10 percent of Puerto Rico's population have federal student loans," the senators wrote. "Many of these students continue to be without power, telephone, or internet service needed to make payments on their loans or to request assistance from their student loan servicers....we urge you to exercise your discretion to enroll borrowers impacted by Hurricane Maria in interest-free administrative forbearance for a minimum period of six months, or until Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are no longer considered to be in a disaster zone."

The letter was also signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.).

In the weeks since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Senator Warren has:

  • Led a group of senators urging DHS to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march, and joined a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
  • Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra, and raising concerns about the potential health risks posed by the Superfund site on Vieques.
  • Pressed President Trump to take immediate action in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
  • Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
  • Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.  
  • Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses, noting the challenging fiscal situation and extensive damage in both jurisdictions in calling for the waiver.