Eligible UW students can soon expect a third round of federal aid payments from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).
The funds, also known as HEERF III, come from the American Rescue Plan passed by U.S. Congress in March, and divides funds to universities across the country for emergency student aid.
Of the $106 million the UW is receiving from this latest package, an estimated $53 million will be distributed to students, according to Kay Lewis, executive director of financial aid. This follows minimum guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Education, mandating at least half of the funds given to the university be doled out directly to students.
These federal guidelines also force universities to prioritize students with exceptional financial need. The UW will determine which students are eligible for federal financial aid from existing FAFSA and WASFA records submitted for the 2020-21 academic year.
“We will determine which students qualify, and that will drive the amount of the checks that they will receive,” Lewis said, noting students are not expected to apply for these payments.
The American Rescue Plan is the third federal relief package since last March. The $106 million package is close to the sum of $39 million the UW received last year from the CARES Act and the $60 million from last December’s package.
The Student Financial Aid office previously distributed $1200 payments to students in the original CARES package, and $1300 earlier this year. The amount and time of the upcoming payments is still to be finalized, as the UW only recently received the money from the federal government last week and is currently working out the details of distributing funds to students, according to Lewis.
Sarah Castro, director of the Office of Federal Relations, noted this delay was due to a change from the Trump administration to the Biden administration and the adjustment period for new federal staff.
“Part of the reason they took so long is they’re trying to minimize what we had in previous cycles of funding,” Castro said, citing confusion in last year’s aid distribution.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the UW campus last spring, the initial federal aid release under the CARES Act did not initially include schools on the quarter system in its consideration, according to Castro. UW officials then had to lobby the federal government to make the payments on time for spring quarter for students to be able to pay their bills.
The change in administration also allows students here on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to receive federal aid. They were previously excluded from receiving HEERF funds.
These restrictions, however, did not stop the UW from sending financial grants to DACA students.
“We’ve been funding DACA students with other means of funding, other dollars we could put together so that if they met the same [financial] criteria they would also receive funding at a comparable level,” Castro said.
The new change thus enables the UW to draw funds for DACA students from the $53 million federal package and send uniform payments to all eligible students.
Remote learning and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated financial need for many students faced with the challenges of studying and working, a concern Castro noted as paramount to the need for the UW to lessen the burden on its students.
The Student Financial Aid office plans to release the payments before the end of the spring quarter, according to Lewis. Payments are intended to cover currently enrolled students.
Reach reporter Hope Morris at email@example.com. Twitter: @hopexmorris
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