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Penn State to Distribute Federal Emergency Aid Grants to More than 25,000 Students

by on May 13, 2020 6:41 PM

Penn State will allocate $1,000 cash grants to more than 25,0000 qualifying students in an initial round of funding from the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, the university announced on Wednesday.

The money is intended to assist students in covering "expenses related to disruptions in campus operations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic," such as course materials, technology, food, housing, health care and child care, according to a news release.

Penn State received nearly $55 million from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed on March 27. Half of that was specifically earmarked for emergency grants for students in need. The other half, "will be used to cover costs due to significant changes with the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus," according to a university FAQ,

A university task force developed a framework to distribute $1,000 grants to approximately 23,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate, law and medical students from all Penn State campus locations except the World Campus. Students enrolled exclusively in online programs were not eligible under federal requirements.

Emergency grant recipients are Pell Grant-eligible and lower-income students and qualified based on family income and other data from the federal student aid application. In a letter to college and university presidents, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos encouraged institutions "to prioritize your students with the greatest need," and to distribute the funds "as widely as possible."

“Colleges and universities have been given discretion by the U.S. Department of Education to determine how this emergency assistance will be disbursed to students,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement. “Knowing that a significant number of our students have experienced financial hardship, we want to make as deep of an impact as possible with this funding to reach as many students as we can who have incurred expenses as a result of the necessary shift to remote instruction.”

Eligible students will receive notification by email in the coming weeks with instructions on how to accept or decline the grant. They will be required to affirm the funds will be used for eligible expenses and can request a lower grant amount if their related expenses total less than $1,000.

The university has set aside an additional $2 million from the federal relief funds to allow students not identified for aid in the first round of funding to apply for a grant in a second round. Details on round 2 funding will be announced soon, according to the university, and disbursements will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

"While this first round of funding is focused on students who reported lower family incomes on their FAFSAs, Penn State recognizes that not all students have completed the FAFSA, and that the economic impacts of COVID-19 may have drastically altered the finances of many students and their families," the news release said.

The Department of Education has directed universities only to distribute the emergency grants to students who are eligible for federal student aid. All students who wish to apply for second-round funding are urged to complete the FAFSA, if they have not already.

Separate from the federal grant money, Penn State's Student Emergency Fund has distributed more than $280,000 since the pandemic began, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said. The fund has so far raised nearly $500,000, from more than 2,100 donors, including a $100,000 gift from Edward and Helen Hintz, $50,000 from Sue Paterno and $50,000 from a group of State College rental property owners and managers.

Since mid-March, the Complete Penn State program has also awarded $250,000 in financial assistance to students who are within one or two semesters of completing their degrees and are facing hardship.

“We understand how critical these grants are to our students, and especially so for those students of limited means whose lives and educations have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” Sims said. “We are committed to making these funds available to our students as quickly as possible, as we know from the large number of applicants to the University’s Student Emergency Fund... just how urgently this relief is needed.”

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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