For many students of the University of North Alabama, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned their worlds upside down. Within a week, students left campus, moved out of their dorms and apartments, and continued their education remotely.
After all of this, the students of UNA persevered and finished the spring 2020 semester. On March 27, before the term finished, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) became law.
“The CARES Act is federal funding that came as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the Office of Student Financial Aid. “Higher education institutions across the United States received a portion of that funding; UNA was among them.”
Under the coronavirus aid bill, institutions of higher education received $14 billion in aid. UNA received $5 million.
“The first $2.5 million has been received and are being disbursed to students with need as quickly as possible,” Financial Aid said.
On May 11, students who met the criteria received an email from the Office of Student Financial Aid with directions to apply for the coronavirus relief bill. While this email excited students of the university, many students were left disappointed after finding out that they were not applicable.
“My sister told me about it [the CARES Act], and she said I should try to find out if I was eligible to receive any aid,” said sophomore Itzel Velazquez. “I was not.”
It was unclear to some students as to why they were told that they were not eligible to receive relief funding from the coronavirus rescue package. When Velazquez realized she would be ineligible to receive aid, she assumed this was because of her The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“At first, I thought it was because I don’t get FAFSA money,” Velazquez said. “But then I found out other people that didn’t file for FAFSA got aid.”
Other students were concerned over the idea that all students should have been eligible for relief.
“Personally, I don’t understand why some students qualify and others don’t,” said sophomore Brennan Stroup. “I didn’t pay my tuition to be assigned ridiculous amounts of work because I’m at home. My GPA suffered. Everyone deserves something back.”
While UNA distributes the funds received from the coronavirus relief bill, they did not dictate the eligibility of students.
According to the Department of Education, the following criteria: must have submitted a 2019-2020 FAFSA application, be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, have a valid social security number, have a high school diploma, GED or have completed high school in an approved homeschool setting, must be degree-seeking, must be enrolled in the term in which they are seeking assistance, cannot be in default on federal student loans, must be registered with the Selective Service, if male, meet satisfactory academic progress, cannot exceed aggregate loan limit or Pell Grant lifetime usage, and cannot owe an overpayment on federal aid programs.
Additionally, the Office of Student Financial Aid explained that some students received a larger amount of relief due to variations within their FAFSA aid score.
“FAFSA is a Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” Financial Aid said. “The aid score or rating is given by the Federal Aid team assessing the need for aid and how much aid is available to the student.”
The due date, as listed within the email sent to students by the Office of Financial Aid, stated that the deadline to accept relief money was May 15. There were students who were eligible to receive money but did not accept it.
“Any funds not accepted will be disbursed through the online application process,” the Office said. “The online application has been made available for any student who was taking classes on campus in the spring who is eligible to receive funds under the Federal guidelines for CARES Act disbursements.”
If a student missed the May 15 deadline, they can still apply for their relief funds through their portal account.
On May 11, the Office of Student Financial Aid sent out an email to students, explaining the process necessary to accept the coronavirus aid bill.
“To accept the funds being offered, access the Billing and Financial Aid tab in your UNA Portal account and select the ‘UNA CARES Act Agreement Page’ under the Financial Aid section. You must complete this acknowledgement request before funds will be distributed,” said Financial Aid. “Those ineligible for CARES ACT funds may be eligible to receive support from other funding resources made available by various donors to help students in need.”
The Office of Financial Aid will be accepting applications through June 30. If a student has yet to receive aid from the coronavirus rescue package, all funds are planned to be distributed to students before the end of July.
All $5 million of funding UNA received will go towards its students. The United States Department of Education outlines the process on their website.
All the funding received by UNA will be used for the benefit of its students. This includes, but is not limited to, work studies and new technological requirements brought to light by the pandemic.