Eligible recipients find discrepancies in CARES Act resources

Thirty days after the start of emergency fund distribution, El Camino College distributed a total of $3.4 million to students in emergency grants received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), according to a fund report.

Passed and signed on March 27, the CARES Act gave around $2 trillion in economic aid for Americans in need. Of that money, $14 billion was allocated towards colleges and universities, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) reported.

An ECC notice stated the college received a total of $11.7 million in funds, a part of which was used for direct student aid. Of the 8,285 students who qualified for the emergency grant under Title IV, 7,520 of them were awarded the grant, according to the same student aid fund report.

Kimberly Curutchet, a Kinesiology major, says she received a deposit for $500 back in May.

“When I received [the funds], I was relieved,” she said. “I was financially struggling at the time.”

Curutchet says she stopped receiving COVID-19 “bonuses” from her job, so the money was helpful.

But not all students who qualified to receive the funds received them.

Eliza Arellano, a business accounting major, says she had her FAFSA application completed and was taking around 10 units at the time ECC was distributing the money, meaning she qualified to receive the funds.

“It could’ve been great for my books and stuff,” she said.

Arellano says she talked to a financial aid counselor following the transition to online classes but did not receive any information regarding the CARES Act or possible funding.

“I wish I would’ve known,” she said.

The California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) released a summary on April 3, which outlines several CARES Act sections.

According to the summary, work-study students who cannot resume work due to COVID-19 closures can continue to receive payments from their institutions for up to a full academic year. Unused work-study funds can also be transferred to supplemental grants.

Students who withdrew from courses during the spring 2020 semester because of COVID-19 will not have that term counted against them when considered for Pell grant eligibility and are not required to pay back any funds received that semester from federal student loans or Pell grants.

The USDE suspended most payments on federal student loans, the halt will last through Sept. 30, and will not affect credit scores or federal loan forgiveness. The payment suspension is not applicable to private loans.

These types of loans are familiar to Breeanna Bond, a Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education (CARE) Advisor, who works primarily with students who struggle financially.

“A lot of students, because they are single heads-of-households, they often gravitate towards loans,” Bond said.

Bond was excited to hear these students would be able to receive some of the free funding.

“Personally, I feel my students are some of the students with the highest unmet needs,” Bond said.

She explained how, often, these students can be excluded from receiving funds because they don’t take as many units as students without children.

“Those unit counts were going down, but the need was going up,” she said.

The guidelines ECC implemented for how CARES Act funding was to be distributed covered most of these students, Bond said, making it a useful decision.

An ECC student FAQ states the college will continue to send disbursements every two weeks as more students complete their FAFSA and become eligible to receive the funds. The page was last updated May 15.

A similar lack of updates can be found on other websites.

During a Town Hall meeting on Aug. 18, California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley directed students looking for more financial aid to the CSAC website and icanaffordcollege.com.

The CSAC website has a small message in a COVID-19 student FAQ which states they are working with financial aid partners and more information about the CARES Act will be made available soon. The Union was unable to find any further follow-ups.

Additionally, the Union was unable to find any information regarding the CARES Act at icanaffordcollege.com.

The latest CARES Act update came from the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 3, informing institutions the application period for the CARES Act is reopening.

For updated CARES Act information refer to this USDE page.