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How federal grants are helping students navigate pandemic
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A University of North Georgia Gainesville students walks through campus Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in the chilly air. The university receives $6.8 million in CARES ACT funding for students. - photo by Scott Rogers

Alejandra Garcia said she saw her uncle, who died in January from complications of COVID-19, as a second father.

The University of North Georgia junior said shortly after her uncle’s death, she became the designated funeral coordinator. And as she grappled with the family loss, she left her part-time job to help her family. 

The financial and emotional burden of the death made it difficult for Garcia to focus in class. That is, she said, until UNG announced the second round of federal grants aiming to help students like her. 

“The UNG grant came at the most important time of my life. I’m dealing with COVID-19-related grief and financial loss,” Garcia said. “This money will help so many people like me.”

On Jan. 14, the US Department of Education announced UNG was awarded $6.8 million from the second phase of federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grants, which aim to assist students with “exceptional need due to COVID-19.” However, Carson said the university receives the HEERF II funds on a reimbursement basis. Once UNG disperses the funds to students it will request a reimbursement. To date, UNG has disbursed more than $2 million to about 5,100 students, Carson said.

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University of North Georgia Gainesville students walk through campus Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in the chilly air. The university receives $6.8 million in CARES ACT funding for students. - photo by Scott Rogers

Disbursement of the grant began this week and runs through Feb. 19. The first installment of HEERF awarded another $6.8 million to UNG last year. 

To be eligible for the grants, students must have been enrolled for the spring semester as of Feb. 8, must have completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid for 2020-2021 and must be eligible for Title IV financial aid such as federal grants, loans and work-study programs. The student’s estimated family contribution must be of $5,700 or less. 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid uses the estimated family contribution to determine how much financial aid a student is eligible to receive.  Undocumented and international students cannot receive the HEERF II funding, which ranges per student from $200-500 per semester.

An additional grant, the UNG CARES II Emergency Grant, is also offered to students facing “specific hardships.” Carson said the emergency grant aims to help students with necessities such as tuition, food, housing, health care, mental health care or childcare.  Through the UNG CARES II Emergency Grant, students can receive up to $700. 

Students who received funding from the HEERF II program are still eligible for the emergency grant. The emergency grants will be reviewed and applied to a student’s account weekly until the funds are exhausted, Carson said.

Sylvia Carson, a UNG spokesperson, said both grants are allocated to all UNG campuses and available to students enrolled in fully online or hybrid courses. Carson said the emergency grant applications are still being reviewed and processed while the HEERF II grants have been allocated to students.

Approximately 1,900 students primarily based on the Gainesville campus received the HEERF II funds this semester, Carson said. Carson said the university anticipates having both of the grants available through the rest of spring and summer semesters. They could still be available in the fall if funds remain, she said.

“The funds made available to UNG students through HEERF I and HEERF II have been critically important in meeting various needs, including supplementing income to cover housing, food, technology needed for distance education last spring and summer, and health care expenses,” Carson said. “We are thankful to have these funds available to assist our students and their families who have faced the challenges presented by the pandemic.”

When Garcia received an email confirmation she would receive the funding, she said she immediately thought: “I’m saved.” 

Garcia said her family paid for the majority of the funeral costs for her uncle, which cut into their savings and mortgage payments. Yesterday, she received $500 from the HEERF II program and plans to use the funding to help pay her family’s home mortgage payment.

Garcia, who lives with her parents and three siblings, said keeping a roof over the family’s heads is her priority. As she prepares for the midterm season at UNG, Garcia said she feels more confident in her ability to focus on her classwork and academic goals with peace of mind that that can happen.

“It’s so real and so impactful. This money helped me put my financial anxiety to rest,” Garcia said. “The HEERF II funding helped me refocus on what I need to do for my degree.”

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