JSU HEERF money expended, no more student grants

Photo of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act also known as the CARES ACT. Photo are not of the actual bill but a simulation of the bill. Photo courtesy of istock

Abigail Harrison, News Editor

Jacksonville State University has expended all of its student aid funds awarded under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), so students will not receive any more emergency financial assistance grants.

HEERF was established on March 27, 2020, when Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which “responds to the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) outbreak and its impact on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses,” according to house bill 748.

Through HEERF, the federal government granted three stimulus bills to higher education institutions. The U.S. Department of Education website lists the three bills as CARES Act (HEERF I), CRRSAA (HEERF II) and ARP (HEERFF III).

According to the U.S. Department of Education website, the total amount of emergency funds awarded by these three bills amounted to $76.2 billion. 

According to Anastasia Rodriguez, JSU financial controller, of these funds, JSU received $15,322,424 in student aid and $19,191,323 in institutional aid.

Rodriguez said the university used all the student aid funds, as well as some of the money from the institutional portion, to award financial grants to eligible students. These grants were distributed as the stimulus bills were passed.

According to the U.S. Department of Education HEERF fact sheet, students could use the grant money for “any component of the student’s cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise due to coronavirus, such as tuition, food, housing, health care (including mental health care), or child care.”

Based on JSU required reporting and disclosure documents, students received HEERF I money in June 2020, HEERF II money in Spring 2021 and HEERF III money in Fall 2021. Rodriguez said the university had leftover money to disburse the last round of grants in Spring 2022.

The awarded grants were prioritized based on need, which the university determined by looking at a student’s expected family contribution that is calculated on the FAFSA application, Rodriguez said. The grants were disbursed in tiers, with students with the lowest expected family contribution receiving the most money.

Rodriguez said President Don Killingsworth and the President’s Cabinet “voted on and approved all the decisions that were made,” in regards to how the monetary ranges of the grants were decided.

“We wanted to make the money go as far as we could to help as many people as we could,” Rodriguez said.

The U.S. Department of Education also established eligibility requirements, which changed with each bill. One requirement for HEERF I was that recipients had to be Title IV eligible, so international and DACA students could not receive money, Rodriguez said.

However, by HEERF III, all students were eligible, and according to disclosure documents, the university disbursed the largest amount of money during this round of grants.

Rodriguez said she received many complaints from students about the amount of money they were awarded being different each time, but she said the university had to follow government guidelines.

“Each time we had to change the rules on how we gave it out based on what was the law at the time we gave it out,” Rodriguez said.

In addition to the student aid funds, JSU received money to be used for institutional needs, according to the disclosure documents. Rodriguez said the funds have been used for structural support, technology and WIFI parking lots, which gave students access to the internet.

According to Rodriguez, the university also used the money to improve classroom instruction by hiring graduate teaching assistants and visiting professors and by rebuilding the IT infrastructure to ensure students, faculty and staff had access to online instructional methods.

The university has not used all of its institutional funds and is currently in the process of using the money to improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning on campus.

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