Thursday, November 29, 2018

Student Loans and Bankruptcy

Student Loans and Bankruptcy: Why the Student Debt Crisis Hits Black Borrowers Harder 

 By Dana Mathura

By now, we have all heard how immense the student debt crisis actually is. So, it should come as no surprise that student loans continue to wreak havoc on the lives of students who graduate with loan repayments. What is more, though, is that the loans carry on their effect long after students graduate.
In the mix of this predicament, black students who borrow funds for their college careers end up getting hit the worst by the effects of the debt crisis. Oftentimes, the black student-borrower who is in debt was a first-generation college student. What this has the potential to mean, is that their family did not predict the high costs of college and all that goes along with it. But even if they did, sometimes their family savings are not enough to send their child off for their studies without a loan.
It all starts somewhere and in this case, there are societal reasons. Black borrowers have less wealth in their names compared to other races. This speaks to their lack of inherited wealth from parents, grandparents and other family members who leave items to them in their Wills and by other means. The lack of wealth also comes from how much they personally earn in their own jobs. Black students are not always afforded the same job opportunities or the same pay as their white peers.

According to a Nerdwallet article, there are more black borrowers than there are white or Latino borrowers. That number rounds off to 87% of black students who borrow, compared to the other two ethnic groups. “A quarter-million federal direct student loan borrowers see their loans go into default for the first time every quarter,” the Urban Institute stated in their research. On top of that, black borrowers are more likely to default on their loans. A default on a federal student loan occurs after nine months of inactive payments. Once that goes into effect, the federal government then has the right to seize their paychecks. In addition to that, the student who has defaulted on their loan can be sought after by debt collectors.

This all puts a massive dent in the student’s credit score and directly affects how they will purchase a home, vehicle or any costly item in the future. A year or two before the student defaults on their loan their credit score sees a 50 to 90 point decline, as reported by the Urban Institute.
What further envelops black borrowers into more debt is their enrollment in graduate school after receiving their bachelor’s degrees. The need for more schooling after completing their undergraduate studies stems from the lack of opportunities offered to black graduates with just bachelor’s degrees. Black students typically decide that obtaining their master’s degrees will heighten their job prospects but in doing so, they have a wider pool of loans with higher amounts they can delve into. But, this puts them in the red zone for defaulting on their grad school loans more than they would for their undergraduate school loans.

It must be noted that, the reasons why black borrowers default on their student loans and fall into more debt are simply unavoidable, unless there is a complete overhaul of society.  In the meantime, black borrowers should apply for federal aid before they decide on federal or private loans. This can be done through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application which not only issues Pell Grants, but also work-study opportunities. Secondly, it is best to seek scholarships which are handed out not only based on academic excellence, but according to different criteria met by the applying student. After trying the above methods and incorporating your own savings, if possible, and college is still too expensive, then opt for a federal loan before you apply for a private loan. Federal student loans for college include Direct loans (Subsidized and Unsubsidized), Perkins loans, Parent PLUS loans, andGradPLUS loans. Typically, federal loans are favored because they offer lower interest rates and some recourse of forgiveness. They are aimed at making higher education a possibility for every student in the nation.

If you are a borrower, but especially a black borrower, be wary of your due dates and sketch a plan of payment so you keep on top of your loan before it gets out of hand. Should you foresee a missed payment or begin to fall behind on your loan repayments, reach out to the loan servicer. Loan servicers know you are not the first student to experience the hardship repayment brings. Reaching out to them could result in a collaborative plan of action you both put together. A lack of communication could end up costing you so much more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How Can SIJS Help Immigrant Children Obtain a Green Card?

How Can SIJS Help Immigrant Children Obtain a Green Card?
By Chereen James

Quite often, the welfare of immigrant minors is raised among news outlets. In recent news, we heard about an alarming number of children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border and held in detention facilities. But what about children who overstayed their visa or were brought to the United States by other means? They too, can obtain permanent residency through a Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) proceeding.

SIJ status is granted to children who are under the age of 21, but preferably under the age of 18, as the Trump Administration threatens a restriction on the age limit. In order to obtain a Green Card through SIJ status, a Juvenile Court of their State of residence must deem those children as abandoned or neglected by their parents. A child can be deemed abandoned or neglected when at least one parent refrains from providing them with adequate food, shelter, education or emotional support, and other issues that can be brought to a Court to prove abandonment—including the death of a parent.  

Once it is established that a child has been abandoned or neglected, the Court will order a guardianship or a related custody order so that their needs can be met. The guardian or custodian does not need to be a citizen of the United States; however, they must not have any criminal records neither should other members of their household. An Order from the Juvenile Courts will be used to petition USCIS for the child to be granted a Green Card.

In 2017, Eber, from Guatemala, was granted SIJ relief and obtained his Green Card after his older brother was appointed to be his guardian. He left his home because he was physically abused by his father and both parents abandoned him. He faced deportation when he came to the United States illegally. His application for guardianship, with the Court finding that his parents abandoned him, enabled him to receive Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and thus he was able to obtain his Green Card.

Not all cases are as extreme. Sometimes a Court will find neglect if a parent passed away and there is no one else to care for the child in the home country. Other times, the Court will determine that an abusive parent is neglectful and will place the child with an appropriate guardian.

Brian Figeroux, Esq., the attorney who advocated for Eber’s SIJ petition, said, “too many children who are abandoned in the United States, don’t get proper advice either because the people they live with do not care, or they don’t get multiple consultations from seasoned AILA lawyers.” He also pointed out that social workers who work with immigrant children need to understand that SIJ proceedings are the solution to many of these children’s problems. He further said, “my concern is that those children are missing out on many opportunities to get a proper education and jobs, which can lead them to be frustrated, depressed and suicidal.” Mr. Figeroux extends a free consultation to anyone who needs advice on this matter.   

Many children, who were brought to the United States by family members or came on their own, should know that there is a way to find relief and obtain permanent residency. The SIJ status is one way whereby they can remain with loving relatives or be appointed new guardians who would care for them in the United States. They can find assistance with an immigration attorney who also has experience with family law matters, specifically with the Special Immigrant Juvenile petition. A legal consult will open the door for a future without the fear of deportation. Call the Law Office of Figeroux & Associates at 855-768-8845 for a free consultation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Workers' Compensation

Workers' Compensation
By Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

More than a century ago, pirates were some of the world’s first advocates for workers’ compensation. Known for their trademark eye patches and wooden legs, pirates were paid for loss of body parts. While hopefully, your career is not as dangerous as a pirate, if you’re injured on the job, first check out your state’s local protocol.

Workers’ compensation is an insurance or wage replacement offered to employees injured on the job. Under New York State law, workers’ compensation covers employees working in for-profit businesses and excludes most independent contractors. Independent contractors are self-employed workers and not employees.

After an injury, it’s important to first receive medical care from a health care provider designated by the Workers Compensation Board. Within 30 days of the incident, notify the employer in writing about the accident. Then file a claim for worker’s compensation and mail it to the nearest Workers Compensation Board.

Whether you slipped on a banana peel, inhaled toxic fumes or strained your back while lifting boxes, there are rules to remember when filing a claim. Depending on the laws in the state, after a claim, a worker might be drug tested. If the injury was caused by the intoxication, then the benefits can be denied.

On the other hand, small businesses cannot forgo workers’ compensation and may face high fines as well as lawsuits for doing so. Uber is currently facing a class action lawsuit after one of its California drivers was allegedly attacked on the job. Since Uber classifies workers as independent contractors, the driver is not required to receive workers’ compensation.

This is one of the drawbacks of Uber’s business model of employing independent contractors. While Uber can avoid insuring drivers, they also run the risks of costly lawsuits. This varies from state to state. In New York, however, Uber drivers are given workers’ compensation benefits under the Black Car Fund, which provides protection and insurance for drivers who are classified as independent contractors.

If an agency is concerned about the cost of workers’ compensation, the penalties for forgoing the costs are far worse. According to New York State’s Workers Board Employee Handbook, if you do not carry coverage and you have fewer than five employees within a 12-month period, then you risk a misdemeanor fine between $1,000 and $5,000. If you hire more than five employees and do not provide coverage it is a class D felony and you face a fine between $5,000 and $50,000.

If a business keeps inaccurate payroll records, that can affect workers’ compensation premiums, they may face a penalty of $2,000 for each ten-day period of non-compliance. These laws do not discriminate against celebrities either. In 2013, TMZ reported that Jim Carrey was fined $72,000 for not providing workers compensation for employees at a New York art studio.

Higher workers’ compensation premiums are most often seen in industries with more dangerous conditions such as construction zones, landscaping or other risk-prone locations.

Here are some quick tips for reducing your workers’ compensation premiums. First, establish and maintain a safety program to reduce work-related injuries. For example, some employers join a drug-free workplace program regulated under Code Rule 60 of New York State’s Department of Labor. In addition, it is important to be aware of fraudulent claims. If someone is out of work for a knee injury – an investigator might expose that they’re engaging in activities that impede on their safety. Lastly, consider joining a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) to assist in loss control and safety. They are experts in providing administrative support such as payroll processing and human resources. Reducing injuries not only ensures a safer work environment but allows the owner to build a profitable and sustainable business.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

How to Avoid Legal Trouble When Renting to Immigrants and Non-Citizens

How to Avoid Legal Trouble When Renting to Immigrants and Non-Citizens

By Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

Housing discrimination can take on many forms. According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot project bias against non-citizens.
   Recently, in a one-hour live webinar, Douglas D. Chasick, the president of the Fair Housing Institute, instructed owners of multifamily housing properties, managers of multifamily properties, leasing agents and attorneys and other rental property advisors on ways to avoid violating U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and fair housing rules.
   Chasick also advised how to avoid lawsuits from applicants and residents who claim you discriminated against them on the basis of national origin, the challenges of implementing a policy restricting residency to U.S. citizens and dealing with complaints arising from cultural differences among residents.
   With more than a million undocumented immigrants living in New York City, thousands live in apartments and may face discrimination. Local legislation, however, can protect undocumented tenants. According to New York City’s Human Rights Law, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on their actual or perceived immigration status.
   This includes threatening to deport tenants or report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), retaliating against non-citizens by refusing to make repairs to their apartments and requiring tenants to provide proof of citizenship or documentation detailing their immigration status.
   A couple in Massachusetts is all too familiar with how these laws pan out. When a landlord asked the wife of a prospective tenant, “Where are you from?” it sparked a $60,000 rental discrimination lawsuit. The Boston Fair Housing Commission issued $10,000 in emotional damages, $44,000 in attorney’s fees and costs and a $7,500 civil penalty against the broker.
   “While the fine was eventually reduced it was not by much,” Chasick said. “[the landlord] casually said where are you from? And [the prospective tenant] said “Venezuela.” The prospect and her husband went on to find an apartment a month later — the prospect found the question about her national origin insulting and upsetting.
   When landlords are renting to undocumented immigrants there are some protocols to follow. It is important not to single out applicants who may appear “undocumented” or foreign-born. For example, if an application does not call for a prospect’s driver’s license — do not inquire about a driver’s license from someone perceived to be undocumented. Also, you cannot ask for extra information, unless you ask all applicants for this information. It is recommended to keep records of screening information for all tenants and prospective renters if a lawsuit or fined is pinned to a landlord.
   For undocumented immigrants, it is usually difficult to run credit history and background checks. Experts at Landlord recommend looking at the last twelve months of bank statements to see their payment history. A County’s Sheriff’s Office is a good place to look up criminal records, especially because it is public information. Also, it is less likely that undocumented immigrants will be late on their payments because at court hearings they may risk deportation.
   If an undocumented tenant is having an issue with a landlord, they should call the New York State Office of New American’s hotline at 1-800-566-7636 or file an online complaint to the Attorney General’s Office.To file a discrimination lawsuit, call the Law Offices of  Figeroux & Associates at 718-222-3155 to set up an appointment.