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USF to start distributing $17.4 million in emergency relief funds to eligible students

Students will start getting notified this week about whether or not they are eligible to receive up to $1,000 of coronavirus relief aid from an act utilizing the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

More financial assistance is on the way as USF prepares to disburse $17.4 million in emergency financial aid grants to eligible students with “exceptional financial need” caused by the pandemic.

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act was signed Dec. 27 by former President Donald Trump, allocating $21.2 billion for institutions of higher education under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

The university received a total of $58.2 million, of which $17.4 million will be allocated to emergency financial aid grants to students and $40.8 million for institutional purposes, including costs posed by COVID-19, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The university will start notifying students about their eligibility to receive funding this week. Students can receive up to $1,000 relief packages, which will vary depending on the students’ circumstances.

Eligible students include those who are enrolled in spring 2020 or in a later semester for at least half time, filed a Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application, exhausted all other funding options available and have been financially impacted by COVID-19 by providing documentation.

The notification process, however, may take several weeks, according to university spokesperson Adam Freeman.

“There are approximately 15,600 USF students who meet the high-level criteria, but we won’t know how many are eligible until they complete the certification to show they have emergency costs due to the pandemic,” he said.

The Office of Financial Aid will review students who have filed a FAFSA application in the past and determine whether they are in need of funds in order to confirm their eligibility as well as officialize an award. Students who received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in fall 2020 or spring 2021 are not eligible to receive additional funding.

During a Faculty Senate meeting March 10, Provost Ralph Wilcox said the university developed a plan that takes into consideration student access, student progression, retention and graduation rates as well as student debts impacted by the pandemic. The funds will be spread out over the spring, summer and fall semesters, according to Wilcox.

The university is also set to receive a third round of funds from the federal government after President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief legislation, known as the American Rescue Package, into law March 11. With this bill, higher education institutions across the country will be allocated about $40 billion, the largest federal allocation for higher-education pandemic relief to date.

“We expect upwards of $50 million in additional student financial aid emergency grants coming our way,” Wilcox said.

“As that arrives, we are going to have to step back and adjust our plans, most likely for summer, fall and spring of 2022, to wisely invest those funds consistent with federal guidelines to meet the needs of our most financially stressed students.”