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Student Loan Empowerment Project

The Student Loan Empowerment Project (SLE) Project provides $7.25 million in targeted grants that connect student loan borrowers to a network of community-based organizations and legal aid groups that provide free and individualized education, case management, and assistance with student loan issues.

The SLE Project was authorized via Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2022-2023 budget, which provided $10 million in one-time funding from the General Fund for Student Loan Borrower Assistance (SB 154). In addition to the $7.25 million grant program, the budget also included $2.75 million for a statewide marketing and communication campaign focused on student loan borrower education and outreach to further the state’s commitment to providing Californians who hold student loans with vital information about their rights and options. 


How to Apply

Applications are now closed. Announcements are expected to be made in January.

The Student Loan Landscape in California

In California, there are nearly four million borrowers who owe $156 billion in federal and private student loans. These borrowers are faced with navigating a complex and confusing repayment system and a student loan market plagued with predatory practices. Additionally, borrowers with private loans do not have repayment protections under federal law to help them manage their loans. Poor servicing practices can add to the overall cost of loans and cause borrowers to slide into default.  

Research shows that the student loan debt burden falls disproportionately on women, low-income, first-generation, and Black borrowers. In California, the default rate, or the rate of borrowers who are currently at least 90 days delinquent, is 7.1 percent. Defaulting on student loans can have severe consequences, including wage, tax, or social security garnishment, notification to credit bureaus and possible legal action. Defaulted borrowers tend to have a lower student loan balance with a median loan balance of $15,307 and are higher among those who attended private-for-profit colleges, those who don’t complete a degree or certificate, and Black and Latino borrowers. The ripple effects of student debt are substantial, and student loan debt negatively impacts a borrower’s financial future, including their ability to buy a home, choose a career, and save for retirement according to the Annual Report of the Student Loan Ombudsman 2022 

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Biden’s Administration One-Time Debt Relief program, millions of borrowers returning to repayment in October 2023, the new Income-Driven Repayment SAVE plan, and the many regulatory changes to Public Service Loan Forgiveness and other programs, borrowers will be faced with many uncertainties and challenges in the coming years.  

Two Student Loan Empowerment Project Grant Streams

The SLE Project will operate as a coordinated network, using a supportive hub and spoke model of service provision. DFPI provides funding for organizations that will play specific roles within this SLE Project Network. Organizations may apply for and receive funding for one or both streams of funding. Only the grantee can benefit from the grant funds and cannot be redistributed as grants to other organizations.

Two grant streams are available:

Stream 1: Network Coordination Grants

Network Coordination Grants will provide critical coordination and support for the SLE Project Network. The maximum funding available in this category is $2 million, which may be awarded to one or more organizations. Eligible organizations may apply to provide one or both of the following functions up to the maximum of $2 million for the two-year period.: 

A: Service Coordination and Referral 

  • Establish and manage a statewide toll-free phone number, website, and email for borrowers 
  • Coordinate student loan borrower intake and referral services  
  • Develop and maintain a database to track referrals and service outcomes 
  • Aggregate service data and evaluate outcomes
  • Coordinate information sharing and build intra-network relationships  
  • Liaise with Student Loan Ombudsperson on borrower referrals to service partner grantees   
  • Collaborate with DFPI staff to deliver marketing and outreach strategies 

B: Training and Quality Assurance 

  • Implement an ongoing training program for service partner grantees 
  • Develop a training curriculum and materials 
  • Ensure consistency and quality of training across the network 
  • Identify and promote best practices and share updates on policies, regulations, etc. 
  • Maintain record of training and development  
  • Collect data related to training outcomes 
  • Conduct technical assistance and training for partner organizations 
  • Aggregate and analyze key outcome measures and monitor progress 

Stream 2: Service Partner Grants

Service Partner Grant funds are to be used to provide direct community-based, individualized education and counseling or legal services to help borrowers manage their student loans, access federal repayment and forgiveness benefits, or lower their debt balance. Services may include specialized support for complex cases. $5.25 million of funding is available under this funding stream. The maximum award for each Service Partner grant is $600,000 for the two-year period, and each organization can receive only one grant. 

There are two types of direct support that can be provided under this stream. Organizations may apply to provide one or both types of services.  

A. General Support for Borrowers*

  • Provide free financial education and individual counseling to consumers with their higher education debt issues, including the following:
    • explore loan repayment options 
    • support access to loan forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge programs   
    • help to apply for consolidation, deferment, and forbearance   
    • resolve issues with loan servicers and lenders   
    • get out of default to prevent wage garnishments, social security offsets, and tax intercepts  
    • provide general financial education and counseling 
    • present to the community on substantive student debt and related topics 
    • provide referrals to additional services and resources. 
  • Participate in training and information sharing 
  • Track individual participant data and project outcomes for SLE Project evaluation and DFPI reporting 
  • Report servicer violations and require borrowers to file complaints 

*Training and technical assistance will be provided to build the capability of service providers to ensure consistent and updated

 

B. Specialized Case Support for Borrowers

  • Provide specialized support and guidance to direct service providers with complex cases 
  • Conduct General Case Reviews with direct service providers 
  • Participate in training and information sharing 
  • Track individual participant data and project outcomes for SLE Project evaluation and DFPI reporting 
  • Report servicer violations and require borrowers to file complaints 

Important Grant Information

Grant Funding Uses & Timing

Through the SLE Project, the DFPI can award up to $7.25 million as part of the program’s one-time funding to promote and enhance the economic security of student loan borrowers by:

  • Designing, developing, or offering, free of charge to student loan borrowers, classroom- or web-based financial education and empowerment content intended to help borrowers manage their student loans, access federal repayment and forgiveness benefits, or lower their debt balance. 
  • Providing individualized, free financial coaching or direct legal services to student loan borrowers. 

The SLE Project will operate as a coordinated network, using a supportive hub and spoke model of service provision. DFPI provides funding for organizations that will play specific roles within this SLE Project Network. Organizations may apply for and receive funding for one or both streams of funding. Only the grantee can benefit from the grant funds and cannot be redistributed as grants to other organizations. A grantee may subcontract services that it has agreed to provide under the grant agreement, so long as those services are conducted on behalf of the grantee. Subcontract arrangements must be clearly described in the application and budget.  

Grants will be awarded for a 2-year period. Grant funds will be disbursed at the following intervals: 50 percent upon signing of the grant agreement, 40 percent upon submission of an interim report, and the remaining 10 percent following submission of the final report. 

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for a grant, an applicant must meet the following criteria: 

  1. Be a nonprofit organization that has demonstrated experience in providing financial literacy, higher education debt counseling or other services to the target population of individuals with higher education debt. 
  2. Grant funding must be used for a program benefiting student loan borrowers who reside in California. 
  3. The Applicant must be organized and operated exclusively for one or more of the purposes exempt from federal income taxes under the following sections of the Internal Revenue Code: 
    • Section 501(c)3 – charitable organizations, churches/religious entities, and private foundations 
    • Section 501(c)4 – social welfare organizations 
    • Section 501(c)5 – labor, agricultural, or horticultural organizations 
    • Section 501(c)6 – business leagues 
    • Section 501(c)7 – social clubs 
  4. No part of the organization’s net earnings shall inure to the benefit of a private shareholder or individual. 
  5. The Applicant must be in good standing with the Secretary of State of California and the state of the Applicant’s headquarters, if applicable.

Other Grant Requirements

Grantees may use no more than 15 percent of the grant to cover administrative (indirect) costs. Failure to comply with this requirement shall render the Applicant ineligible for a grant during any subsequent fiscal year and until the noncompliance is corrected. Administrative costs proposed by each Applicant should be in proportion to the Applicant’s total grant amount requested. Administrative (indirect) costs may include but are not limited to, costs of workforce overhead, human resources, accounting, finance, business and facility operations, and information technology. Insurance is not an eligible administrative cost. 

Grantees are required to submit an interim report (due March 1, 2025) and a final report (due March 1, 2026). in form and by dates specified by the DFPI, documenting: 

  • The specific amounts and uses to which grant funds were allocated, 
  • The number of individuals aided through the use of the funds, 
  • Quantitative results regarding the impact of grant funding, and 
  • Any other information requested by the Department. 
  • Failure to submit satisfactory reports shall render the Applicant ineligible for a grant during the subsequent fiscal year and until the required report is submitted.

Resources and Announcements

For more information about the SLE Project, please email Grants@DFPI.ca.gov.

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Last updated: Nov 3, 2023 @ 5:49 pm