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Tuesday, June 06, 2023

UF hasn’t offered any federal emergency relief this semester; some students worry they never will

It is unclear whether students will receive the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund for a fourth semester

For four semesters, UF offered federal COVID-19 aid to help students financially amid the pandemic. 

Yet, that option hasn’t come to fruition for Spring, leaving some students stressed about finances.

Hunter Becker, a 23-year-old UF economics master’s student was laid off from his Chipotle job when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit. 

The aid he received from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds for the last few semesters lessened the blow. The grant made it possible for him to comfortably continue paying his rent without taking out more student loans.

Cynthia Roldan, a UF spokesperson, could not answer if a new grant would be available for students in 2022 as of Friday.

As a new HEERF grant and other forms of federal emergency aid are not yet available to UF students for the Spring semester, Becker worries that they’ll never come. 

“This semester, I’m no longer a TA, and my jobs have really kind of dwindled down so I had to take out a little bit more in loans,” he said. “If I would have gotten the aid that I got in the last two semesters, I just wouldn’t have really had to worry about rent.”

While he is fortunate to be able to live even without the aid, he believes it will have an impact on lower-income students. 

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education announced more resources for universities and students. This announcement included an additional $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds for institutions with the greatest need. 

The federal HEERF III aid was established March 11 and funded by the ARP, which allocated $44.6 million for student funds to UF on June 8, according to the UF Student Financial Aid site

An estimated 60,407 students were potentially eligible to receive Emergency Financial Aid Grants. The HEERF III funds helped students cover expenses related to emergency situations like unexpected travel or technology requirements. The funds were originally available to undergraduate, graduate, professional, online, non-degree and withdrawn students that submitted a FAFSA. Students had to complete a Federal Emergency Aid Certification Form.

Later, funds were made available through an online Federal Emergency Aid Application to UF enrolled students who hadn’t submitted a FAFSA, international students and DACA students.

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As of Dec. 31, about $36,531,165 was disbursed as HEERF III funding to 28,501 students, according to the UF Financial Aid site. This was more than double the amount provided by the HEERF II aid. 

However, a new federal grant has not been funded for Spring, causing some students to worry as they continue to face impacts from the pandemic.

Tanvir Chowdhury, a 26-year-old information systems and operations management master’s student, wrote in an email that the grants he received in the Spring and Fall of 2021 were a huge relief to his living expenses as well as additional expenses he has as a master’s student.

“The federal emergency grants in both semesters really alleviated the stress of paying my rent for a long time, and I could fully focus on my courses and professional development,” Chowdhury wrote. 

Chowdhury wrote that he would be disappointed if no further emergency relief aid is offered this semester. 

“This omicron variant has impacted many students at UF, and even faculty,” he wrote. “Many students have had to miss classes, live far from home, and had to fend for themselves while ill.”

His family, he wrote, has also struggled with fewer work hours. The extra money would help to cover the cost of living expenses. 

Contact Lucille Lannigan Follow her on Twitter @lucillelannigan.  

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Lucille Lannigan

Lucy is a senior journalism major and the metro editor for The Alligator. She has previously served as a news assistant and the East Gainesville reporter for the metro desk as well as the health and environment reporter on the university desk. When she’s not doing journalism you can find her painting or spending time outside.

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