University of Louisiana-Monroe students say they’re pleased to see the university plans to issue a $300 check in COVID-19-related aid to some 3,900 students instead of making them prove they needed the money.
In an email to students on May 1, ULM announced it would distribute $2,888,882 in emergency aid to help undergraduate, graduate, and professional students cover all or part of their costs related to the disruption of campus operations during the COVID-19 crisis.
Covered expenses would include food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child-care costs.
Michael Camille, ULM’s Vice President for Information Services and Student Success, sent the email to students, explaining that students needed to have a COVID-19-related expense and provide supporting evidence. Camille’s May 1 email stated awards to students could range from $500 to $3,000.
ULM students told The Ouachita Citizen they were upset with being asked to show evidence of being negatively affected by the crisis in order to receive funding given to ULM for the students.
“I was furious,” said Clayton Bryan, an English major who graduated this past weekend. “They just wanted to keep the money for themselves. Not everything can be documented, and they made it that way so they [ULM] could keep a lot of the money for themselves.”
ULM received the some $2.9 million in relief aid through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which was created by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Under ULM’s original plan to award the money, students who were unable to provide supporting documentation because of extenuating circumstances would have to provide a letter, signed and dated, that explained the situation, provided an itemization of the aid requested, and state why they could not provide such documentation.
Many students took to social media to express outrage, publicly posting about the problem and tagging university administrators like ULM President Nick Bruno in their posts.
Ashley Grant, a junior studying communication at ULM, submitted a full application as originally requested. After she applied, ULM announced that all eligible students would receive $300 in funding without having to show any documentation.
“When I applied, I explained my situation as best as I could and provided photos of my timesheets,” Grant said. “Then after that in a few days, they announced they’d be giving the $300 to eligible students and continue looking at the applications to award more as needed.”
On May 14, Camille sent another email to students, notifying them that ULM would provide $300 to every student eligible to receive CARES Act funding without having to submit any documentation. Students who were eligible to receive the $300 award could apply for additional CARES Act aid.
Concerning the change, Camille told The Ouachita Citizen that ULM officials realized students had incurred expenses that could not be easily documented. Camille said issuing a fixed amount of money to each student was consistent with how other universities were disbursing their CARES Act aid.
Bryan, the English major upset with the university’s original request, attributed the change in the university’s distribution of funds to ULM students’ protest.
“After people caused an uproar, we received an email saying we would receive $300 if we went online and submitted the form,” Bryan said. “People posted in the ULM Student to Student group about it. I had also heard that some students emailed Bruno.”
“I am happy that they realized that and we can get some of the money that is for us,” Bryan added.
Once ULM announced all eligible students would receive $300 in aid, some students feared the $300 would be applied to tuition and not given directly to them. Some students reported seeing a $300 credit on their spring fee bills and summer fee bills.
Christian Johnston, a first-year doctoral student in marriage and family therapy program at ULM, reached out to ULM Student Account Services after she saw the $300 appear as a payment on her fee bill for spring 2020.
“I was not happy when I saw that at first.” Johnston said. “But I figured it must just be the way our system is set up.”
Johnston later received an email from Student Account Services explaining the $300 would not be applied to either the spring fee bill, summer fee bill or any other balance she had with the university. Student Account Services further clarified the money would be issued directly to her.
“There’s always going to be something that could’ve been done better—our faculty and staff were making it up as they went along, just like we’ve had to do,” Johnston said.
Many students, such as Grant and Johnston, are counting on receiving an award from the CARES Act Relief Aid because of loss of hours at work or loss of employment during the COVID-19 crisis.
“My hours have been cut dramatically, so I’ve been having trouble buying gas, substantial groceries, and I’m not eligible for a stimulus check or anything like that so this CARES fund is the only help I’ll get,” Grant said.
According to Camille’s May 14 email, ULM would begin disbursing the funds this week.
According to Camille, some 8,010 students were in attendance at ULM in the spring and based on the conditions established by the U.S. Department of Education, 3,900 students were eligible to receive the $300 award as of Tuesday.
To be considered for additional CARES Act Relief Aid, a student must provide supporting evidence to show they have COVID-related expenses greater than what is covered by the $300 award. Covered expenses would include food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child-care costs.
According to the conditions established by the U.S. Department of Education, dual enrollment students, students enrolled in an all online degree program and students who are not U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens were not qualified to receive funding from the CARES Act Relief Aid.
ULM did not respond to The Ouachita Citizen’s inquiry about how the university would use any money not awarded to students by press time Tuesday night.