The University of Wisconsin announced Monday the Office of Student Financial Aid would begin distributing additional COVID-19 relief funds to students from the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II.
The HEERF II includes $9.89 million designed to provide financial relief to students and institutions experiencing hardships from the pandemic, according to a UW press release. UW has already notified the over 4,000 Pell Grant-eligible students of the $1,000 financial awards the university will distribute from this fund.
Other students in need of emergency funds to cover expenses can request funding on their MyUW Student Center through the Emergency Support Request form under the Student eForms and the Financial Aid folder. The OFSA will fill requests on a case-by-case basis and students will receive the money one to three business days after the form is submitted, according to the press release.
UW’s announcement comes after calls from ASM, the BIPOC Coalition and other students and groups across campus to create an inclusive and accessible student relief fund.
The university blocked ASM attempts to create one because of conflicts with UW System policies. This prompted ASM to take a vote of No Confidence against Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller.
ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick said the release of HEERF II funding is a step in the right direction as it includes students who were originally ineligible for HEERF I funding.
Though, the university’s process of awarding funds on a “case-by-case basis” with no explicit statement of guaranteeing funds to all who apply could lead to students being excluded, which would not have happened under ASM’s proposed COVID-19 relief fund, Mitnick said.
Mitnick said he also has concerns about the timeline for getting students funding and encouraged the university to allow the immediate release of funding to struggling students rather than making them wait one to three business days.
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In an email statement to The Badger Herald, Director of UW Communications Meredith McGlone said in addition to the HEERF II funding, which all currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to apply for, private funding will be used to support additional student needs.
According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, HEERF II has no student eligibility requirements for institutions other than prioritizing students with the greatest financial needs first.
McGlone said the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 does restrict some non-citizens and international students from receiving federal aid and applies to HEERF II, according to NASFAA.
“The department has not issued written guidance to clarify whether or not undocumented, DACA or international students may receive these funds,” McGlone said. “UW-Madison will use private funds to support undocumented, DACA and international students as we await further guidance from the federal government. Any private funds used would not have a citizenship requirement.”
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Additionally, McGlone said the university has private funds available at the university-wide level, as well as within specific schools and colleges, that the OSFA will help connect students with in the event they are not eligible for HEERF II funding.
McGlone said the university plans to continue to advocate for students’ financial needs.
“Based on the requests we’re currently receiving from students, we believe the $10 million in federal funding and the additional private resources will do a great deal to ease the financial strains caused by COVID-19,” McGlone said. “ We encourage any student who needs financial support during this difficult time to connect with the Office of Student Financial Aid or the Dean of Students Office so we can assist them.”