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More COVID-19 financial aid will be available to students in the spring

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The university has allocated between $20 and 24 million in emergency student aid for the upcoming semester through the COVID-19 Student Success Award using the third iteration of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund Act. 

“$71 million of our funds are allocated to students,” said Mark McLellan, vice president for Research and Innovation. “$47 [million] of that has already been spent, with around $20 [million] or $24 million to be allocated in the spring.”

Students can apply for the COVID-19 Student Success Award on my.unt.edu. The aid is funded by the current iteration of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Act, which has been signed into law in three different versions as part of larger relief bills.

The first version of HEERF came through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the second through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act then the third and current plan through the American Rescue Plan. 

“There have been three different bills passed to give aid to institutions,” said Melissa McGuire, associate vice president for Student Affairs. “With HEERF I, we awarded a little over 18,000 students. For HEERF II, which broadened the criteria,  we awarded almost 29,000 students. With HEERF III, we’ve already awarded over 31,000 this semester. In total, we have distributed 78,284 awards.”

Student Financial Services and Financial Aid collaborate to determine who is applicable for the award and distribute the funds. The guidelines for who could apply changed with presidential administrations. 

“When the Biden administration came in, we were able to start opening it up to every student enrolled in the university,” McGuire said. “[Before] if you were 100 percent online, you weren’t eligible for an award. The only eligibility we look at [now] is if you’re enrolled in at least one credit hour, we can give you an award.”

HEERF III also added language allowing universities to award aid to international and undocumented students. McGuire said the university is also required to spend all of the funds allocated by HEERF II before they can start distributing through HEERF III. 

Through the Student Success Award, most students are eligible for $500 in aid, while those eligible for a Pell Grant or have an expected family contribution of $5,846 or less may receive up to $750.

McGuire said the response from students has been mostly positive.

“A lot of students are really struggling because they’ve lost their jobs, their family members have lost their jobs and they’ve lost family members because of the virus,” McGuire said. “The money is helping them to make ends meet, pay their tuition and books, but they are struggling a lot so every little bit is helpful.”

There is currently no confirmation for a fourth draft of HEERF, and it is unclear if there will be any similar aid signed by Congress in the future. 

“There is a deadline to spend this money in the spring,” McGuire said. “Some students say they don’t need the aid because they know others need it more than them, but any money we have available we’re going to put directly in the hands of students.”

International studies junior Graciela Rodriguez received $500 in funds after she applied the second time. She said she appreciated the money, which helped her pay off some of her tuition, but wished the government would do more to assist students struggling financially. 

“Tuition is too high,” Rodriguez said. “In some instances, COVID has made me and other students take out more loans because it was dangerous to work and difficult to find work.”

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

Article Originally Published by Will Tarpley on North Texas Daily

Source: North Texas Daily

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