Justice Catalyst Fellow Winston Berkman-Breen Appointed as First-Ever Student Advocate & Director of Consumer Advocacy

(Cross-posted from NYDFS)

As First-Ever DFS Student Advocate, Mr. Berkman-Breen Will Specialize in Informing and Protecting Student Loan Borrowers
DFS Continues to Take Strong Action to Protect New York’s Students and Address Student Loan Crisis Through “Step Up for Students” Initiative as Federal Deregulation on Student Protections Continues

Department of Financial Services (DFS) Superintendent Linda A. Lacewell today announced that Winston Berkman-Breen has been appointed Student Advocate and Director of Consumer Advocacy for the New York State Department of Financial Services, strengthening the mission of the Department to protect and empower New York consumers and student borrowers in the midst of federal rollbacks. He will work across the agency and the state, providing expertise and leadership in consumer advocacy to ensure consumers remain at the center of the Department’s decisions and priorities.

“Winston’s extensive background advocating for student borrowers will further strengthen the Department’s leadership in protecting New York students and their families as the burden of student debt grows with zero help from Washington,” said Superintendent Lacewell. “New York is stepping up for students while Washington steps down. DFS’ recently proposed regulation will provide significant protections for New Yorkers and we are actively preparing to implement and enforce New York’s recently enacted student loan servicer legislation.”

As Student Advocate and Director of Consumer Advocacy, Mr. Berkman-Breen will advocate on behalf of students and serve as a liaison between DFS and New York consumers with concerns. He will drive the student debt resolution process by reviewing and analyzing complaint data from student borrowers to deliver and execute appropriate recommendations to the Department. This will help ensure that New Yorkers are protected and heard regardless of any changes that are made to the federal ombudsman program with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As the federal government deregulates and stalls student protections, DFS has been encouraging New York consumers who encounter problems with student loans, including predatory loan practices and high, unscrupulous fees, to contact DFS to file a complaint. Recently, DFS reached a settlement with a national student loan servicer of for-profit schools and announced a new investigation into the student “debt relief” industry for potentially deceptive advertising and improper fee practices. The Department has also been traveling across New York to educate consumers about financing an education and repaying student loans.

“I look forward to bringing my experience to DFS to speak with students and their families, help them through the often-confusing loan process, and empower them to make informed decisions about their education and financial futures,” said Winston Berkman-Breen.

Mr. Berkman-Breen was most recently a Justice Catalyst Fellow and Staff Attorney with the Consumer Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). At NYLAG, he represented low-income New York consumer borrowers in affirmative and defensive cases in state and federal court against predatory lenders and debt collectors.

He also served as the Co-Chair of the Student Loan Working Group for New Yorkers for Responsible Lending, a state-wide coalition that promotes access to fair and affordable financial services and the preservation of assets for all New Yorkers. Previously, Mr. Berkman-Breen was a Fellow with the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, where he represented student borrowers who attended for-profit colleges in litigation involving private student loans. Prior to attending graduate school, Mr. Berkman-Breen worked at the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, where he assisted homeowners recovering from Hurricane Sandy, and was a paralegal in the Banking and Real Estate units at a law firm in Manhattan. He holds a J.D. from New York University School of Law, a Master of Public Administration from the New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and a B.A. from Tufts University.