COVID-19 has left many students struggling with financial burdens and worries about how they’ll pay next month’s rent. To help ease the strain, USF President Steven Currall created the United Support Fund to help students who may be taking a financial hit due to COVID-19.
While some students have had no issues receiving funds, some feel more needs to be done — and fast.
Since the fund was announced March 24, a total of $279,531 has been raised by 1,399 donors as of April 15. Students and donors can access the United Support Fund through the USF Foundation website.
About 260 students have been given funds, including 210 students from Tampa, 43 from St. Pete and one from Sarasota-Manatee.
Emily Hickmon, a criminology major graduating this semester, said she applied the day the application period opened and still has not heard an answer.
“I have serious health conditions that my doctor has said would put me at risk for contracting the virus so I have been unable to work,” Hickmon said. “Over the past few weeks, I have spent all of my savings on medications and doctors’ appointments as I am showing symptoms of the virus but I am unable to get tested.
“To make all of this worse, I am seriously concerned that I will be homeless after graduation since every job that I had lined up starting in May is no longer hiring.”
Steven Blair, the USF Foundation’s vice president of development, said applications have been backed up with around 1,200 people applying. He said he has only looked at about half of the applicants so far.
“I think we’re approaching about 500 that we have gone through, some are ones that we’re looking to get more information from,” Blair said.
Hickmon said she hopes to use the aid for groceries and medical bills.
“If I [received funding] it would help me pay off medical debt and credit card debt as I have been unable to earn money for groceries and am behind on my medical bills,” Hickmon said. “Any money after that would go toward rent so I am not on the streets after graduation.”
Situations such as Hickmon’s are what propelled the United Support Fund to be created.
“We recognize that many students have been impacted in different ways by the disruption that COVID-19 has brought to their lives as well as the lives of many other people,” CEO of the USF Foundation Noreen Segrest said.
Segrest said there is no financial aid requirement or deadline for students to apply. However, students must prove that their need is due to the effects of COVID-19.
“These are emergency funds,” Segrest said. “Students must be able to demonstrate in their application that they have a need that is eligible for the funds.”
Student situations that have been approved include those needing assistance making rent and car payments and paying for bills, medical care and food.
Brittany Junkins, a junior majoring in business advertising, said she applied for employment reasons.
“It is becoming hard to pay for rent because I haven’t had any incoming paychecks for weeks and won’t receive any for many more weeks,” Junkins said. “This fund will help me immensely because it’ll help me afford the rent for at least one more month.”
Blair said some students have been denied because they are from other colleges around the area and not registered at USF. But, the fund is accepting both undergraduate and graduate USF students in need.
“At this point, we are only accepting applications from enrolled students at all class levels, so some could be graduate [students],” Blair said.
Students are also limited to $1,000 per application in an effort to maximize donations.
“At this point, what we don’t know is if the need and the application will exceed the funds at any point,” Segrest said. “Should the need and the applications use up all the funds, at that point, we would have to let students know.”
Blair said that once approved, it should only take a couple of days for the funds to show up in students’ OASIS accounts.
“Once their application has been processed, which might take up to two days or so, the money supplies the student’s account and then is refunded via direct deposit within a day,” Blair said.
Hailey Bauer, a junior majoring in education, said she was pleased to receive a response within five days.
“Since COVID-19 started to spread so rapidly causing everything to close, I lost my second job,” Bauer said. “This impacts me because I really need the extra money to assist with rent and other necessities I need.”
Bauer applied on March 26 and received a response by March 31.
“Since receiving the fund, I was able to pay my rent for the month as well as get any groceries or gas that I needed,” Bauer said.
Even though students are being aided through the United Support Fund, Bauer said she believes that USF needs to be helping students more.
“I personally think more could be done by USF,” Bauer said. “I do wish we could get our money back for our in-person courses and the necessities around campus. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee that happening.”
On the other hand, she also said the fund is a step in the right direction.
“I think what they’re doing presently is great though,” Bauer said.
Junkins said she believes the exchange of information between the university and students has been substandard.
“I think USF is trying hard to help students, but communication has been poor,” Junkins said. “I didn’t even know about the United Support Fund until another student told me about it.”
With the large number of applicants waiting and no pressing deadline to apply, Segrest said she hopes the United Support Fund will become more of a resource for students as the fund grows.
“We are really pleased with the community response but we’re not going to be satisfied with what we have already raised,” Segrest said. “We’re going to keep pushing this fund out so that we can maximize the amount available to help our students.”