The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and Madison community is now offering resources to students struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide food and emergency funds.
Office of Student Financial Aid Communications Manager Karla Weber said their office has been working to get students financial help they may need since the university began advising students not to return to campus after spring break. Weber said the Office of Student Financial Aid is offering emergency funds to students who may need financial support to get home, access technology, pay bills or cover any other needs.
“Our priority … has been responding to student requests and trying to get them funds as quickly as possible,” Weber said. “We do still have emergency funds available, so we’re continuing to encourage students [to reach out].”
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The Office of Student Financial Aid cannot hold in-person meetings right now, but Weber said students are encouraged to call or email to ask any questions they may have. Additionally, Weber said students who have regular financial aid questions can contact the office as well — the office is still processing financial aid packages for incoming freshman.
“The hardest part, I think, especially for our students, is the unknown,” Weber said. “It’s hard to know how long this is going to last and what some of the financial implications will be in the coming weeks and months, so we are going to keep advocating for students.”
UW sophomore Daniel O’Brien said the process of requesting emergency funds was simple and fast. After filling out the form, O’Brien received an email a few days later informing him he had been granted the money he requested.
The Office of Student Financial Aid sent a check a few days later. O’Brien said the whole process only took one week. Students who have eRefund active in their Student Center will have the money direct deposited into their account.
“Even though I’m home now … I still have to pay rent for my apartment, which I was really worried about, being out of work now,” O’Brien said.
The university announced March 24 student hourly employees and federal work-study students will receive some income continuation for the weeks of March 23 and March 30.
According to a statement from the university, UW will pay federal work-study students at their normal rate for ten hours per week. Student hourly workers will be paid $130 per week, which is the average weekly pay for student hourly workers on campus. The university will pay students workers April 9 and 23 via direct deposit.
“Because [income continuation] is a very big budget consideration, we are going to let students know as soon as we know what the UW is capable of doing for them,” Weber said.
O’Brien, who works as a student supervisor for UW Housing, said he will also receive income continuation from the university, which he did not initially anticipate. O’Brien said he is grateful the university is offering payment to student hourly workers who cannot work during this time.
While the $130 is less than O’Brien would make in a normal pay period, he said it is still helpful for covering the cost of food and other necessities during this time.
“[The university] certainly did not have to do this, they chose to in order to help students out, especially those that really rely on their jobs to help pay bills,” O’Brien said. “I think it was really great that they did this, and I think that it shows they do care about their employees.”
O’Brien said he knows, for many students, the $130 per pay period may not be enough to cover expenses. For students in that situation, he said that reaching out to other resources on campus may help to fill in the gaps, as it did for him.
For students in need of help supplementing their food budget, the Associated Students of Madison Open Seat is still running. Open Seat External Director Yogev Ben-Yitschak said Open Seat is working out of Union South while the Student Activities Center, the pantry’s usual location, is closed.
Second Harvest is supplying Open Seat with prepackaged food boxes to give out — they weigh 10bs for an individual and 25 lbs for a household of 4, Ben-Yitschak said. Students can request a box through Open Seat’s form and pick up their food the following Tuesday at Union South between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Previously, students using the pantry could choose what items they wanted, but during the pandemic, the boxes will be prepackaged Ben-Yitschak said.
“We want to minimize the amount of time people are around each other because it’s a small pantry,” Ben-Yitschak said. “The average amount of time spent in the pantry is about 20 minutes, which is a long time to be less than six feet apart from each other.”
More people have visited Open Seat than expected, Ben-Yitschak said. Even with many students leaving campus and a decrease in people leaving the house because of COVID-19, Open Seat still saw roughly 100 patrons and more people continue to fill out request forms as they become aware Open Seat is running, Ben-Yitschak said.
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Ben-Yitschak said students can help support Open Seat by informing others about the pantry and encouraging people to fill out their request form if they are food insecure at this time. Second Harvest is providing food packages to Open Seat free of charge right now, but the Open Seat is still accepting donations to cover other costs and future food costs, Ben-Yitschak said.
“I was really worried and nervous about how this whole operation would work,” Ben-Yitschak said. “I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the university came together around Open Seat and around financial aid.”
Open Seat has received help from donors and the university, and Ben-Yitschak said Open Seat is grateful for that help.
For other sources of support, Weber said students can check the Office of Student Financial Aid webpage for more resources the university offers.
Weber also said students and staff should reach out to UHS if they are feeling overwhelmed or scared during this time.
“We all have to take a big deep breath together and say ‘OK, we will get through this,’” Weber said. “We’re all going to be here together to get through it.”