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St Maarteners struggling to earn enough to pay DUO student loans

PHILIPSBURG – “I want to pay back my debt to DUO, but don’t kill me in the process .” Mimi Hodge followed a bachelors degree in Social Work and Services in The Hague. She works full-time on Sint-Maarten, yet she is unable to pay the monthly amount to the Education Executive Agency (DUO).

At the beginning of October, following a petition from students in Curaçao , Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66) said that a separate capacity-based arrangement of DUO is not necessary for the Caribbean. The Curaçao students complain about high monthly amounts and poor communication with DUO. Kharisha Foeken and Mimi Hodge, former students on Sint Maarten, recognize this.

‘DUO does not take monthly costs into account’
Foeken and Hodge work full-time and have two children. Hodge: “DUO does ask for my wage slip when reducing my monthly costs, but they don’t look at my bills. Nowhere can I indicate what my rent is, my monthly charges. “

Foeken: “DUO does ask if you have minor children. But they don’t ask how many children you have. “

Hodge uses all options to ease the repayment, such as local repayment and a reduced monthly amount. One of her problems with DUO is the poor communication: “Letters arrive too late, for example. I received the message of my backlog when the deadline had already expired, and the letter was in the same cargo as that of the collection agency. “

Collection agency and DUO demand payment at the same time
Hodge had to pay 5,000 guilders in a year to a Curaçao bailiff. At the same time, she had to continue paying to DUO. “I can’t do one and one. My monthly amount is around 800 guilders, the reduced amount is 501 guilders. I can only miss half of that. I have emailed that to DUO, but I have not received an answer to my request for further reduction. ”

Foeken pays from a Dutch account and for a whole year. As a single mother, the reduced amount could still be done. “First I paid 700 to 900 euros a year. But in 2015 I got married. Now my partner’s income is included – which is lower than mine – and I had to pay 3,641 euros for a year. I had to save a year for that. (After Hurricane Irma, DUO stopped the payment for Sint-Maartenaren until January 1, 2019, ed.) And I just heard that next year I will even have to pay 540 euros per month. ”

It is possible not to have your partner’s income count, but then you have to repay an extra year for each year. “That would mean that I have to pay off two more eight years. Isn’t that unfair? My partner was not in the picture when I was studying, and he should not have to pay for my loan either. I pay for it myself. ”

‘Some former students take a loan from the bank to pay DUO’
– Former student Kharisha Foeken

She knows people who have taken out a loan with the bank to pay for DUO, or take an extra job. She herself does not yet know how she will arrange it next year. However, Sint Maarten people have not united or signed a petition. The local ombudswoman is also not involved. Foeken suspects why: “People prefer not to pay, some people hide from DUO.”

Hodge jokes: “If only we had done that. No, seriously, I really want to repay my debt to the duo, but I don’t want to be so stressed every month. ”

No figures about former students in Sint-Maarten
How many students in Sint-Maarten have difficulty paying back is unclear. Checking with DUO does not provide any figures about the number of students who have a debt and / or payment arrears on Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius. On Sint Maarten, the Financing Study Reference refers to Student Support Services, and vice versa.

Foeken: “It is better to inform students more in advance. If Sint-Maarten are going to study in the Netherlands, you have no parents to fall back on or to have a bite to eat if you are tight. You have to be completely self-sufficient. But if I had known this, I would not have taken that supplementary grant. “

DUO to the Windward Islands

In November DUO will come to Sint-Maarten to provide information to people who have to start paying off their student debt from 2020 onwards. At the beginning of 2020 it is also possible to have a conversation with a DUO employee on St. Maarten. The same applies to residents of Saba and St. Eustatius.

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