Equity-focused COVID-19 relief funding to be distributed to students

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UC Berkeley received $15 million in direct-to-student funding for undergraduate and graduate students through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Actively enrolled citizens and eligible non-citizens who have filed their FAFSAs are eligible for grants.

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Through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, or CRRSAA, UC Berkeley received $15 million in direct-to-student funding for undergraduate and graduate students.

The funding is similar to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, according to Derek Imai, ASUC external affairs vice president, both in the legislation’s purpose and in how money will be distributed.

“For this specific 15 million, their goal is to make sure this goes to those who really need it,” Imai said. “It’s as need-based as possible, using programs like FAFSA to really verify that people who need the financial aid get it.”

Additionally, actively enrolled citizens and eligible non-citizens who have filed their FAFSAs are eligible for grants, according to Ellen Topp, campus director of communications in the division of student affairs. Allocations will be determined by expected family contribution for undergraduates, while graduate dispensation will prioritize students who received Pell Grants as undergraduates.

Any COVID-19-related “emergency costs” or dimensions of the cost of attendance — tuition, housing, health care and others — can be paid for with this funding, Topp said. Topp added that no additional application is needed; campus will utilize information from existing financial aid applications to remove the burden of reapplying from students.

“We recognize that while all students have been impacted by COVID-19, the pandemic has resulted in disparate outcomes for those who have historically been most marginalized and/or underserved and intend to use our equity lens to address this,” Topp said in an email.

Topp also underscored the CRRSAA’s facets of equity and how campus will distribute funding in a framework “grounded in equity, efficiency and effectiveness.” For instance, campus will evaluate the eligibility of DREAM Act students, who would then receive equivalent funding through the campus Basic Needs Center and emergency grants.

CRRSAA funding opens the door for campus to shift the rest of their financial assistance scheme, Imai noted. He added that undocumented, international and out-of-state students most likely will not be covered by this aid, but hopes that campus will provide them more funding as other students will be receiving financial assistance from the CRRSAA.

Imai also acknowledged the significant work of advocates in shaping the funding, as they shared their stories and struggles during the pandemic with lawmakers. Grassroots advocates continually pushed the previous and current federal administrations, Imai added, and the CRRSAA represents “the fruits of their labor.”

“The (presidential) administration and Congress have a long way to go and that’s why students have been fighting for so many financial campaigns, like the Double the Pell campaign this spring,” Imai said. “This is a huge glimmer of hope, we’re not fighting tooth and nail for the CRRSA Act … I hope this is a general sign that there is more potential for relief in the future.”

Contact Katherine Shok at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katherineshok.