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UCLA and student leadership work to equitably distribute financial grants

UCLA is providing a combination of universal grants and need-based financial aid to help students impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Although, the university’s need analysis might not fully capture hidden costs incurred during the pandemic. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Queenie Xiang

May 22, 2020 8:21 p.m.

UCLA will distribute a combination of universal and need-based grants to its students using federal funds from the CARES Act.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27 to provide economic relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. UCLA received about $36 million under the CARES Act, half of which will be used to give students emergency financial aid.

The other $18 million will be used for general institutional support, such as paying all employees their salaries and bonuses, said Millen Srivastava, the 2019-2020 Undergraduate Students Association Council Financial Supports commissioner.

Out of the $18 million allocated to student aid, $8 million will be given as $200 universal grants to undergraduate and graduate students who are enrolled at least half time for the 2020 spring quarter. The remaining $10 million will be granted to students with demonstrated financial need.

[Related: USAC committees offer reliefs funds to assist students affected by COVID-19]

The UCLA administration decided to offer a universal grant in addition to need-based grants after discussions with USAC and the Graduate Students Association, which said both grants were necessary because all students have been affected by COVID-19, said Letty Treviño, vice president of Academic Affairs for GSA.

“We really needed to think about who we thought was the most affected,” Treviño said. “We concluded, with the students and all of the administration, is that everyone has been affected by COVID-19 in some way, shape or form.”

The universal grant, in addition to need-based aid, gives students a buffer against sudden financial impacts caused by the pandemic, Srivastava said.

Ricardo Vazquez, a UCLA spokesperson, said the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office is reviewing hundreds of appeals from students whose financial situations have been personally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and is coordinating with the basic-needs group and the Economic Crisis Response Team at UCLA to provide additional resources to students.

Both undergraduate and graduate student leaders agreed that UCLA had to provide for students who did not qualify for financial aid under the CARES Act, said Treviño.

In response, UCLA established a private institutional fund using funding not already legally tied up within their budget to provide financial aid to students who are not eligible to receive relief under the CARES Act because of their citizenship status, Srivastava said.

Srivastava added this method allows all students to receive some financial support, while still providing more help to the most affected.

“We didn’t want to exclude those who need more (aid) by giving out (only) universal funding,” she said. “The most equitable decision would be to distribute the majority of the funding back to financial aid packages so our most marginalized are protected and those that need it the most get the money they need.”

However, UCLA’s prediction of student financial need might not accurately reflect student needs because of hidden costs, such as living expenses, said Alexander Astin, a professor emeritus of higher education and the founding director of Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

“You wonder how much an undergraduate student will really be affected by $200, simply given how much everything costs these days,” Astin said. “There are always individual cases that have more or less need, depending on their situation.”

Since most students are feeling some kind of financial pressure and stress in varying degrees, every little bit helps, Astin added.

Srivastava said the financial aid will be distributed to students based on their FAFSA eligibility.

Students who have filed a FAFSA form and qualify for CARES Act funding will receive the universal grant and will receive money from the need-based grant based on their FAFSA status, she said.

Students who haven’t filed a FAFSA form but still qualify for CARES Act funding and students who don’t qualify for CARES Act funding because they are not U.S. citizens will receive the universal grant and can receive need-based funding by filling out a financial aid form on MyUCLA, she added.

Although there are currently no plans from the UCLA administration to distribute more financial aid, Srivastava said the USAC Financial Support Commission and External Vice President’s Office are planning to apply for more funding from UCLA to open a second round of applications for their COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“If we receive more federal funding, we will be advocating for UCLA to keep opening and providing private institutional grants,” Srivastava said. “We want to make sure that all students are being heard.”

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