USC students who do not qualify for federal loan or grant funding will be barred from accessing federal emergency funds as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund meant to aid students who are facing hardship as a result of the pandemic, according to a new set of guidelines released by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
The University has been given $19.3 million of the $6.3 billion allocated to colleges and universities by the stimulus package approved by President Donald Trump last month. Of the $9.6 million of its funds mandated for students, none will be able to go toward students who have had prior drug convictions, did not meet satisfactory academic progress or are considered international, online, part-time or undocumented.
USC administrators instead are redirecting students who do not qualify for funding to the USC Student Basic Needs Emergency Relief Fund for which all currently enrolled part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate students are eligible.
“This fund is available for students experiencing financial difficulties that jeopardize their success or continued enrollment at USC, and who have exhausted all other resources,” USC’s frequently asked questions page regarding the CARES Act read. “Examples may include, but are not limited to, dental/medical costs, housing costs and unexpected loss of employment.”
Only Title IV eligible students, as indicated by the Higher Education Act of 1965, may receive emergency financial aid grants, according to the new federal guidelines. Students who have filed or can file a FAFSA qualify for the grant.
“The criteria to participate in programs under Section 484 of the HEA include but are not limited to the following: U.S. citizenship or eligible noncitizen; a valid Social Security number; registration with Selective Service (if the student is male); and a high school diploma, GED, or completion of high school in an approved homeschool setting,” the new guidelines stated.
The CARES Act will be directed toward providing emergency grants for housing, food, course materials, health care and child care for students who have been affected by the pandemic. Funding will be coordinated by the Financial Aid Office, in cooperation with Student Affairs and Campus Support and Intervention, once USC receives funding from the Department of Education.
“USC is grateful for the funds we received from the CARES Act,” the University said in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “We desperately need these emergency funds and will drive 100% of them toward supporting our students who are experiencing financial hardships. Our goal is to assist as many students and families as possible in meeting their financial demands during this disruptive time.”
USC is encouraging eligible students to apply and provide documentation by May 1 due to limited funding available from the CARES Act. The maximum award is $3,000 and will not affect students’ financial aid package.
“The total funds available are limited,” the FAQ page read. “The university’s priority is to help as many students as possible, especially those in greatest need, get through this academic year.”
For those who apply to the USC Student Basic Needs Emergency Relief Fund, the maximum award is $750. Students can receive the grant once per semester. Students can apply via email to set up a Zoom meeting to discuss qualifications and will receive a notification of their approval within two weeks. Funds will be disbursed to students’ accounts.
Aside from the new guidelines, the CARES Act does not stipulate how much money should be set aside per student, although it requires 50% of the money allocated to each university to go toward emergency student aid related to campus disruption, according to DeVos’ letter to university presidents earlier this month. The letter also proposed using the maximum federal Pell Grant funding, approximately $6,000, as the maximum funding each student may receive.
“The CARES Act provides institutions with significant discretion on how to award this emergency assistance to students,” the letter stated. “This means that each institution may develop its own system and process for determining how to allocate these funds, which may include distributing the funds to all students or only to students who demonstrate significant need.”
School allocations from the CARES Act were determined by a set formula that took into heavy consideration the number of full-time students who are Pell Grant-eligible. The calculation also took into account the size of the student body, including those who were not enrolled full-time before the pandemic.
Students who are eligible for funding through the University’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grant are encouraged to apply to it as a primary resource, using the USC Student Basic Needs Emergency Relief Fund and other services when all other funds are exhausted.
Departments and schools have also established their own emergency aid for students, such as the Marshall Student Emergency Aid Fund and the Graduate Student Government Emergency Fund Program. These funds will be distributed in consideration of students’ existing financial aid, although the University said it will work to preserve preexisting sources of financial aid. Students who receive departmental or school funding are still eligible for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund though they will not receive funding for the same expenses more than once.
According to the website, USC is currently reviewing Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund applications as quickly as possible to process students’ applications and allocate funding. Students are encouraged to check the Financial Aid Summary and Tasks page in their account for additional document requests. Students will receive an email when their application is processed. If funding is approved, grants will be disbursed to students’ accounts through eRefund on USCe.pay.