The university was allocated $83.4 million from President Joe Biden’s relief bill— 50 percent of which is required to go toward student aid grants— according to a statement provided by Kris Muller, UNT Media Relations Associate Director.
The bill, The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, set aside $40 billion for higher education and includes language which suggests potential loan forgiveness. Congress passed the bill on March 10 along party lines, garnering no support from Republicans in a 220-211 final vote. Denton Congressional House Representative, Michael C. Burgess R-26, voted against the bill.
The Department of Education will set federal guidelines on which students will be eligible for emergency grants, rather than universities enacting individual policies as in the past. Previously the university utilized an Emergency Response Team to review applications and determine which students would receive aid.
University officials are uncertain where the remaining half balance will be spent as they await further guidance from the federal government. However, the bill stipulates universities must “implement evidence-based practices” to mitigate coronavirus infections and re-adjust student financial aid rewards based on recent job loss by either an independent student or parent/guardian.
The bill includes a provision that ensures any student loan discharged between December 31, 2020, to January 1, 2026, will not be subject to taxation. According to an analysis of the bill by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, “this move sets up potential efforts to forgive student loan debt either through additional legislation or executive action.”
The bill will not retroactively affect loans taken before the specified time window, and it will mostly benefit students just entering college. Graduate student Adriance Rhoades said while she probably will not benefit from the new law, she does feel empathy for new students.
“I hired a new student this last semester and she asked me ‘Is it always like this?’ and I was like ‘Oh no, normally there’s people in the office chatting and there’s just a lot more camaraderie going on,” Rhoades said. “Hearing from my own student employee has put it into perspective just how much it’s affecting them. So even if it does go to only new college students, I would be okay with that.”
Ecology for environmental science senior Shannon Wallace said she and her parents benefitted from the latest CARES funding provided by the university earlier this semester. Wallace said she was able to cover about two months of rent with the additional aid, an expense which her parents help her with. Graduating this May, Wallace hopes more emergency aid becomes available for continuing students.
“I know there are students that are struggling here, financially, and sometimes it’s a lot easier to make ends meet if they can get a little help from the university,” Wallace said.
Business freshman Kristen Herrera said she applied for CARES funding in the past, but has had no luck. Despite working an on-campus job now and receiving financial assistance from her parents, a federal loan was still necessary in order for her to attend the university. Herrera has managed to finance her college education but said challenges persist for others she knows.
“I know that some of my other friends like my roommate, for example, she, instead of trying to take out a loan, wanted to make it easier on herself,” Herrera said. “So, she took a gap year. But even then, she wasn’t able to save up enough money. And she’s not here anymore.”
Herrera’s former roommate was unable to be reached for comment, but Herrera said she left the university during February of this year citing the out-of-state tuition was too much to afford.
Featured Image: Students walk through the Union on March 3, 2021. Image by John Anderson