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USC will be receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Education to provide emergency financial assistance grants for students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean of Financial Aid Thomas McWhorter announced in an email to academic deans and enrollment council Monday.
The grants will cover the cost of “COVID-related expenses, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care,” McWhorter wrote. He added that “the current funding limit is $3,000” for each applicant.
The email came after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced via a press release last Thursday that $6.28 billion will be delivered to institutions of higher education to “provide direct emergency cash grants to college students whose lives and educations have been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak,” as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
USC will receive in total more than $19.2 million of the grants, a number calculated using a formula based on student enrollment and its number of students who are Pell-eligible, as shown on the U.S. Department of Education’s website. The university has about 47,500 students with 20,000 of those being undergraduates.
“Of the amount allocated to each institution under this formula, at least 50 percent must be reserved to provide students with emergency financial aid grants to help cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus,” DeVos noted in a letter to all college and university presidents.
USC has not determined how much of the $19.2 million funds will be distributed directly to students.
As pointed out in Secretary DeVos’ letter, institutions have “significant discretion” in how to award this emergency assistance to students, and each institution may develop its own system and process to allocate the funds.
“With that said, I would like to encourage the leadership of each institution to prioritize your students with the greatest need, but at the same time consider establishing a maximum funding threshold for each student to ensure that these funds are distributed as widely as possible,” the letter stated. “As a point of reference, you might consider using the maximum Federal Pell grant (for the 2019-2020 academic year, $6,195) as that threshold.”
For USC, the minimum amount of Emergency Assistance Fund to be distributed to students is $9.6 million, the U.S. Department of Education website states.
“The cost of food and housing, based on USC’s costs of attendance, through the end of the term is approximately $2,300. Our goal was to find a balance between supporting as many students as possible with the level of that support,” McWhorter told Annenberg Media via email, explaining the reason for USC’s $3,000 limit per applicant.
USC will allocate funds based on students’ stated needs and documented expenses, according to the FAQs: Support Funds page on USC’s website. There is not a listed deadline for applying, but the university encourages students to apply now since “funds are limited.”
“We are reviewing applications as quickly as possible so we can meet students’ critical needs,” the FAQ page states.
McWhorter wrote in the email sent to deans that currently enrolled students “facing extraordinary one-time costs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic" should apply for this emergency assistance. The fund application, named as “COVID-19 Emergency Assistance for Currently Enrolled Students,” can be found in the Document Library on the Financial Aid Summary and Tasks (FAST) page.
On the application form, students need to indicate how much money they need for common costs that are eligible for emergency grant funding, including food, housing, course materials and transportation.
“This funding is available to continuing undergraduates and graduate students, regardless of whether they are financial aid recipients,” McWhorter wrote in the email. “Newly admitted undergraduates and undergraduates facing a change in income that may affect their expected family contribution should upload a separate Appeal Concerning Expected Contribution through FAST, which may result in additional financial aid.”
International students are eligible for the funding, according to the support funds FAQs page.
Students who have received emergency aid from a school or department but remain in need of additional support are still eligible to apply for Emergency Assistance Fund.
“However, students will not receive funding for the same expense more than once.” the FAQ page adds.
Funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund will not impact a student’s financial aid package because the funds from CARES Act are not categorized as financial aid. If funding is approved, the grant funds will be disbursed to students’ accounts, and then students can get the money to their bank accounts through eRefund, the FAQ page states.
USC has submitted the grant application to the Department of Education. The department has said the grant will be sent soon after approval of the application, according to McWhorter.
“Our goal is to assist the maximum number of students possible with financial assistance to meet their needs throughout the duration of the COVID-19 emergency,” McWhorter wrote in the email sent to academic deans and enrollment councils.
Different from the USC Student Basic Needs Emergency Relief Fund, which is a university-led resource for students that addresses food, housing and financial insecurity throughout the year, the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund is federally funded and is intended to help cover COVID-19-related expenses that our students are facing. The USC Student Basic Needs Emergency Relief Fund is also available for all currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students who face sudden financial distress due to unforeseen circumstances. For the basic need fund, each student can request up to $750 per semester.
“For COVID-19 related financial assistance, students should first submit an application for the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund. The Financial Aid Office may refer select students to the USC Student Basic Needs Fund team, as appropriate, and the team will reach out to those students with additional information,” the FAQ page states. “Depending on their circumstances, students can receive assistance from both funds.”
On April 3, despite having a $5.7 billion endowment, USC announced that the COVID-19 economic impacts and the $215 million federal settlement in the Tyndall case made the university freeze hirings and pause merit increase for faculty and staff positions. The university senior leadership also took compensation reductions for student and employee emergency aids.
Layoffs and furloughs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are happening across the country. Nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks, according to Business Insider. NBC reported Tuesday that 2.2 million Californians, among an estimated 19.5-million state labor force, have filed unemployment applications since March 14. Students have been facing their internships and jobs canceled.
“My mom still has her job. But because of that, it's put a lot of stress on our family because she's still out and … you don't know what's going to happen,” communications major junior Kristal Silva told Annenberg Media via Zoom. “She's putting herself at risk, and she works at a probation office with police officers and nurses … so she's constantly in contact with the virus.”
One of the issues that Silva faced was the inability to work outside of school. Since non-essential businesses are closed and working in an essential business means risking infection, the emergency grant could potentially provide financial assistance to help students financially affected by the pandemic, allowing them to continue attending USC.
“This care package, especially for people who come from marginalized communities, it's very important because we don't have the opportunity to go out and have essential jobs,” Silva said.
Alan De Santiago, a USC student studying health promotion and disease prevention, faced similar financial struggles and said the emergency assistance would help pay for his off-campus housing.
“I also relied on my parent’s support for rent. [B]ut due to the outbreak, [m]y dad was laid off,” De Santiago said via text message. “Knowing that USC is taking some time to relieve some worry of the actual outbreak while going through the consequences of the outbreak is very encouraging.”
“Upon hearing more info about the CARES fund, I will 100% be applying for it as soon as possible, as it would be an extreme help right now,” he wrote.
Here are some additional financial resources for USC students:
- Students who are facing complex issues related to the university resource can reach out to Campus Support and Intervention, email@example.com
- Students can also reach out to the Basic Needs Office for food and housing support. firstname.lastname@example.org.
- USC Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Government provided support for 30-minute free legal counseling via phone call.
- Students who are experiencing a conflict or challenging situation at USC and need confidential advice or mediation can reach out to the Office of the Ombuds at 213-821-9556 or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- USC COVID-19 hotline 213-740-6192 and email email@example.com.
Update 4:45 p.m. April 15: This story has been updated with information from the FAQ: Support Funds page.