Campus, Coronavirus, News

CARES Act allows students to apply for emergency financial aid

Boston University will receive $14 million from the federal government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, at least half of which is required to go toward emergency relief for students. LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

As of Friday, Boston University students can apply for consideration in receiving emergency financial aid.

Julie Wickstrom, executive director of BU Financial Assistance, said students may be awarded emergency grants of anywhere between $500 and $6000. The priority application deadline is May 8, according to the application page on BU’s COVID-19 website.

Funding for the aid will come from the $14 million of federal stimulus money provided to BU under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, according to a U.S. Department of Education press release sent April 9.

The CARES Act, set for immediate distribution to colleges and universities nationwide, will provide more than $6 billion to students in challenging financial situations, the press release stated.

These emergency cash grants are meant to cover expenses such as course materials, technology, food, housing, health care and child care amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

BU will receive a total of $14,995,316, with $7,497,658 as the minimum amount allotted specifically for emergency financial aid grants for students, according to the CARES Act allocation documents. 

Wickstrom said BU is committed to using more than that amount to provide relief to students. 

“President [Robert] Brown really felt like it was important to distribute as much money to students as possible,” Wickstrom said, “so he wanted us to spend that second half on students as well.”

A formula set by Congress determines the amount of emergency financial aid granted to each university, an ED spokesperson said. This formula is weighted based on the number of full-time students eligible for the Federal Pell Grant at the school, which is typically awarded to undergraduates with high financial need. 

In order to qualify, Wickstrom said students must have incurred expenses directly related to the disruption of campus operations.

These expenses may include but are not limited to unexpected travel and living expenditures, technology — such as a new computer, internet access or a data plan — health care, food and supplies needed to complete remote coursework.

Wickstrom said the goal is not necessarily to reimburse all expenses but to determine financial sums that can be offered to students, taking into account their financial need and if they previously applied for financial aid.

“We might look at students who receive Pell Grants, which are our students with the most need,” Wickstrom said. “They might receive more than another student, depending on the circumstances.” 

Wickstrom added that only students eligible for federal financial aid can receive emergency aid, meaning international students, student workers who lost their on-campus jobs and students whose parents have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 are exempt from aid considerations.

However, Wickstrom said students are encouraged to contact BU Financial Assistance if they have extenuating circumstances that are not related to a specific expense incurred due to the suspension of campus operations. 

“[Grant] money can’t be used for [unemployment resulting from the pandemic],” Wickstrom said. “But we definitely want those families to be in contact with our office because we’re really concerned and want to make sure that students can continue to learn at BU, so we want to do what we can to help them.”

Wickstrom said BU hopes to distribute grants via Zelle, a digital payment network that will allow BU to transfer funds directly to students’ bank accounts. To facilitate quick allocation of this money, students are not required to provide receipts of their expenses. 

The CARES Act will provide a total of nearly $14 billion to support post-secondary education, according to an ED press release. This is part of a $2 billion economic relief package approved by President Donald Trump on March 27 to protect Americans from the economic impacts of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.. 

Colleges may grant emergency financial aid to students as they see fit, the ED spokesperson said, but are encouraged by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to prioritize students who show the most need. The goal is for students to be able to continue their education without monetary burdens from the consequences of COVID-19.

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