I recently met the president of one of California’s largest public universities. As Executive Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA), my goal was to explain our student loan program, which provides interest-free, no-cost loans to students, regardless of religion, race or their ethnic origin. His first reaction was to quote the impressive statistic that 50% of his students were already on a full scholarship due to their family income level, and asked me why they would need to bother with a loan. ? But then he thought about the fact that many of those same students were food insecure. He told me that the university had to feed thousands of students a day.
This problem will only get worse as inflation continues to rise, making it impossible for many to stay in school.
The JFLA student loan program is supposed to play a real role today in helping to solve this problem. While many scholarship and loan programs only target tuition, JFLA student loans can be used for all necessities, such as food, housing, transportation, books, computers, and school supplies. other supplies.
Founded in 1904, as a nonsectarian agency, JFLA’s mission is to deploy interest-free loans to help people get a helping hand. The interest-free loan is non-predatory and gives people access to loans they can afford to repay. JFLA’s loan program is unique. Because of our 99% audited repayment rate, JFLA loans continue to help people for generations. As old loans are repaid, new loans are granted.
In my 20 years working for the JFLA, I have never seen the need for college loans as acute as it has been during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In my 20 years working for the JFLA, I have never seen the need for college loans as acute as it has been during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, our interest-free, fee-free loans helped students stay in school, but these loan applications were different. Without a loan, these students, as in the scenario described by the university president, could remain students but many could experience hunger or even homelessness.
In November, UCLA released a report indicating that 1 in 5 students at California Community College, 1 in 10 students at CSU, and 1 in 20 students at UC are homeless, a number that has increased by nearly 50% over the past decade.
Although the pandemic is easing, the number of applicants for JFLA loans continues to grow. Last summer, it struck me that if this need is so strong in the area covered by the JFLA (Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties), it must be present to the same degree throughout the state.
I decided that I wanted to try to expand the scope of who JFLA is able to help. But while we were able to raise millions of dollars to respond to our candidates, covering the state would be an entirely different scale. This effort would require tens of millions of dollars.
I decided to try to get funding from the State of California itself.
I met with state senators, assemblymen and other stakeholders across the state, all of whom immediately recognized how important a statewide interest-free loan program would be essential to help students attend and stay in college. Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi led a $30 million budget request for the initiative, with other signatories including Assemblymen Christina Garcia, Mark Berman, Vince Fong, Miguel Santiago, Jesse Gabriel , Jose Medina, Tim Grayson, Richard Bloom and State Senators Josh Newman, Steven Glazer, Monique Limon, Ben Allen and Sydney Kamlager. The request received hundreds of letters of support from organizations across the state, from hospitals and civil rights organizations to student groups and synagogues.
The budget request is not done. Many entities are competing for funds in the current budget cycle. Meanwhile, this week the JFLA Student Loans Committee will review over 55 student loan applications. This is our fifth meeting this spring and depending on the number of loans approved, we may be short of money for the fall semester. Our student loans are considered on a first-come, first-served basis for students in need. This is a terrible situation for students and this budget request is urgent. I thank everyone who supported the request.
Rachel Grose is the executive director of the Jewish Free Loan Association in Los Angeles, where she worked to create an equitable distribution of interest-free loans for twenty years.