CARES Act provides respite for students during pandemic

By Andrew Ayala

The second set of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act payouts will be sent out to East Los Angeles College students who automatically qualify for a payment. The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27 to assist those in financial need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final cover letter on the CARES Act from Betsy DeVos says that there will be about $14 billion in funds distributed to institutions of higher education and $12.56 billion of that will be distributed based on student enrollment.

ELAC is receiving $10,797,043 in total allocations with the minimum allocation to be awarded for emergency financial aid grants to students is $5,398,522. This means that about half of the funds should be going back to students in the form of a disbursement. 

The first set of payments rolled out last week in the form of a refund to bank accounts linked to BankMobile. Students will receive notice via email or text message with the total amount and details as to when the funds will be sent.

“Acts like these are important in these times because of the economic relief many people can have. This economic relief can help a student focus better on their school work rather than financial concerns,” said Christian Bustamante, a career guidance counseling assistant at the ELAC South Gate campus and political science major at Cal State University Long Beach.

He said he is hoping to gain certification for phlebotomy and medical laboratory practice in order to remain a viable candidate in the future job market with the money.

“The act requires that 50% go directly to the students and that’s what we’re doing right now. We already got out money to 10,000 students and that was about $300 to each, which is about $3,000,000. We still have $2,000,000 to give out, but they’re going over a few things before they distribute,” said Julie Benavides, Vice President of Student Services.

Only students who are eligible for Title IV or FAFSA may receive the emergency grants. This includes students who are U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens, students with a valid Social Security number, students who are registered with the selective service, students with a high school diploma or GED and students who are in programs that lead to a degree or certificate.

Benavides said that the district receives and designates the funds per college and goes based off of a database to decide who gets the payout.

“Unfortunately the department doesn’t allow us to use these funds for undocumented, international or non-matriculated students… We are working with the financial aid office and focusing on a planning committee to see how we can help the other groups in our equitable basis,” said Benavides.

Bustamante said that the opening of alternative applications for those who were not recipients of financial aid or who are undocumented was a great effort to combat the department of education’s stance on not using the CARES funds for those students.

The California Community Colleges website says that the 50% of funds that are left over after distribution may be used to cover costs of converting certain courses to distance education due to the interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Benavides said they are hoping to open student services such as laptop lending libraries for those who still have little or limited access to online education.

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