Senators urge dropping barriers to refinance

Both of California’s U.S. Senators are among more than a dozen from both sides of the aisle who urged the Obama Administration today to make administrative reforms to help millions of responsible homeowners refinance and take advantage of today’s record-low interest rates.

The lawmakers – writing to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward DeMarco – said that with interest rates at 3.94 percent, it’s time to lower barriers that keep borrowers trapped in higher-interest loans and to address other hurdles that limit existing refinancing programs.

Specifically, they called for removing loan-to-value limits, which they said would provide the most at-risk borrowers an alternative to simply walking away from their mortgage; eliminating loan level price adjustments, which they say make a refinance less affordable, reduce the benefit to the borrower, and can’t be justified on loans on which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac already bear the risk; and ensuring that second lien holders don’t stand in the way of a refinance.

“Time is of the essence and we urge you to act quickly and aggressively to ensure that responsible homeowners receive the full benefit of these lower rates,” they wrote.

In addition to U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the letter was signed by Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; John Kerry, D-Mass.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Boxer: Military suicides merit presidential letters

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators including Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote to President Obama today urging him to reverse a long-standing policy of not sending Presidential letters of condolence to families of American service members who commit suicide.

“We should honor the service of all the brave military men and women who sacrifice for our nation,” Boxer, who chairs the Senate Military Family Caucus, said in a news release. “Ending this long-standing policy will provide comfort to the families struggling with the loss of a loved one, while also reducing the stigma that prevents too many men and women in uniform from seeking the mental health care they need.”

The senators’ letter highlights a growing number of suicides among troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and points to a Department of Defense study which found that between 2005 and 2009, there was an average of one suicide every 36 hours in the military. Many administrations have had this policy of withholding condolence letters from families of military suicides, but opponents of the policy say it’s hurtful to such families and reinforces the stigma within the military surrounding mental health issues.

Besides Boxer, the letter was signed by Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Mark Udall, D-Colo.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Read the full letter, after the jump…
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