Why today’s students need access to emergency aid
By Mariam Djaballah, Intern, Association of Young Americans
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant mental and financial toll on college students. With the exorbitant price of tuition and the stresses of a heavy workload, college is stressful enough without the added hardships of a pandemic. Fortunately, federal efforts such as the CARES Act, which allocated over $6 billion to the U.S. Department of Education to distribute to colleges and universities for student emergency aid, — offered relief for struggling college students during the pandemic. Emergency aid, in the form of federal grant funding, can be used for a variety of expenses, including institutional fees, rent, transportation costs, food, or medical bills, among others. From my experience as a college student, and from interviewing some of my peers, I can affirm that 1) the process of receiving emergency aid was simple and effective and 2) emergency aid was helpful and should continue.
I first interviewed Brianna Moreno, a liberal arts college student in New York who received emergency aid during her freshman year. Like so many other college students, the pandemic made it harder than ever for Brianna’s family to meet insanely high tuition costs. When speaking with me about her experience receiving emergency aid, Brianna expressed gratitude: “It pretty much just covered the rest of what I owed for that semester so my mom and I didn’t stress about paying off the bill.” Brianna also emphasized how simple the application process was, stating, “I literally just put my name and info on a Google form and then I ended up getting money, like, two weeks later.” Filling out a short Google form makes applying less daunting to college students flooded with work and exams. The questions on the form, at least the one my school distributed, were also pretty straightforward.
I then interviewed Fabiola Villanueva, a liberal arts college student in Pennsylvania who also received aid, through the CARES Act initiative, during her freshman year. When speaking about the benefits of receiving aid, Fabiola expressed how college is already costly enough, stating, “It was definitely needed considering how expensive college is in itself. And it helped me pay some dues I had, which was great.” She also went on to say, “I think it’s extremely vital, especially for students who rely solely on themselves for their college-related costs.”
Even without a global pandemic and economic depression, it is clear that college students struggle to make ends meet financially. With many students lacking adequate financial support from their institution and facing housing and/or food insecurity, it would make a lot of sense for emergency aid to be regularly available to students at any time.
The pandemic offered a rare opportunity for us to see the cracks in a broken system, including college affordability issues and ongoing financial stress for struggling college students. While the pandemic has surely been a catalyst for initiatives such as emergency aid, I can only hope that they persist through “normal” times. As Fabiola stated, the Emergency Aid Initiative is “something that should continue, cause it really was a great help.”