IF YOU'RE A RESIDENT of Washington who needs a loan for college, don't expect to get one through the city's guaranteed-student-loan program. The nine banks that make these low-interest loans, which are backed by the city and the federal government, haven't made one since last July. This hasn't been for want of applicants - about 1,500 District college students have applied. The reason for the no-loan policy is that the banks are trying to force the city government to reimburse them for the 2,500 student loans (totaling nearly $3 million) already in default.
The Department of Human Resources, which - you will not be surprised to learn - is in charge of this dissaster, says it has only about $700,000 available now for reimbursing the banks. This week eight of the banks sued the city for the full amount owed them, and we're afraid that they do have a point. DHR has done an abominable job of policing this worthy program. Agency officials let its default rate grow to nearly 33 per cent - triple the national average for student borrowers. Understandably, the bankers began to worry that they would never get their money, especially in view of DHR's lack of interest in pursing delinquent borrowers. The result is that college students here have lost at least temporanily an important means of financing their education.
As bleak as the situation seems, it isn't entirely hopeless. DHR has beefed up its loan-program office and appears finally to be vigorously seeking payment from the delinquents. Agency officials have said they won't hesitate to seek criminal indictments or civil suits against those who refuse to pay. With luck, that should prompt more of these delinquent borrowers to pay up. DHR officials say this new tack has already resulted in a growing number of payments. Still, the question remains of how the banks can be paid quickly so that the old program can be resumed or a new one begun. Until DHR and other interested government parties have addressed that question they will not have done nearly enough to make up for their own default.