UC Berkeley students face financial aid delays; campus asks them to take loans

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ASUC President Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris received an email from the UC Berkeley financial aid office Wednesday suggesting that she apply for an emergency loan because her financial aid had not yet been disbursed.

AbdulQadir-Morris had been chosen from the student body at random for the second time to resubmit her tax documents. Her financial aid counselor said it could take up to six to 10 weeks for the financial aid to come in.

When students have sudden “unanticipated expenses,” including a delay in financial aid disbursement, the campus financial aid office offers emergency loans, which must be paid back within 60 days, according to the Cal Student Central website. Students are subject to holds on class registration and late fees on their CalCentral accounts if the loan is not paid back within that time frame.

AbdulQadir-Morris filed two different emergency loans to cover her registration fees and to help pay for food and housing. Although she has had issues with financial aid in the past, she said it has never been to this degree.

According to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff, about two-thirds of all undergraduate students qualify for financial aid. Of these students, approximately 500 students have had to take out emergency loans in lieu of financial aid this semester. Last fall, 560 students received emergency loans.

Ratliff added that issues arise with the disbursement of financial aid when there are errors in the application or requested financial aid forms or when applicants fail to meet deadlines. Sometimes, campus also asks to review additional documents.

Ratliff added that students who do not choose to file an emergency loan may explore personal loans outside of campus financial aid.

“Each situation and student is unique, but in general emergency loans can be one way to avoid missing payment deadlines if there are unusual circumstances stemming from issues with aid eligibility and/or a disbursement issue,” Ratliff said in an email.

Like AbdulQadir-Morris, senior Darcel White was chosen at random for a verification check and had to file an emergency loan to avoid being dropped from classes. White said he has never had issues with his financial aid in the past and is frustrated by the situation. He alleged that the issue could be that the financial aid office is understaffed.

Although White has turned in the necessary verification documents, he was told that he may not receive his aid until late October or early November.

With regard to whether the campus financial aid office is sufficiently staffed, Ratliff responded by saying that it “(aims) to ensure proper staffing” and tries to help as many students as possible during peak times.

“It’s frustrating for me to know we spent $600,000 on police measures (at Ben Shapiro’s event) and we can’t afford to pay financial aid,” AbdulQadir-Morris said. “The university needs to reprioritize how they spend money.”

Campus senior Jacqueline Sanchez was notified that she had been selected for reverification two weeks before the start of the fall semester. Sanchez, however, did not file for an emergency loan, because she was worried that she would not be able to pay the loan back within the 60 days.

Sanchez added that the campus’s Cancel for Non-Payment policy, which requires students to pay 20 percent of their tuition to avoid being dropped from classes, added more stress to the whole situation.

“This verification process is strenuous, especially for students who are low-income like myself,” Sanchez said. “We rely heavily on financial aid and the (Electronic Funds Transfer) to pay our bills in order to have a roof over our heads and food on the table.”

Contact Ella Colbert at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @colbert_ella.