The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law by Congress on March 27, 2020, which might as well be an eternity ago given how much time has passed since then.
Most notable for the financial assistance it offered small businesses and educational institutions, the CARES Act has been a boon for public schools in particular.
Montclair State University was one of many institutions to receive funding through the CARES Act and Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF II) and American Rescue Plan (HEERF III). Of the original CARES Act grants given in Essex County, Montclair State received one of the largest amounts overall at $19,911,482.
But did this money benefit as many students as it could have? There appears to have been no small amount of confusion over Montclair State’s level of communication when it comes to notifying students of the CARES Act funding.
Students who applied for assistance seem to have received it. The CARES Act and HEERF Grant application processes consisted of a Google form sent via Montclair State’s email list.
Multiple opportunities to apply for aid have been made available since the COVID-19 pandemic began, yet many students say they were unaware of the money in the first place.
Considering that the notifications regarding availability consisted of just one email per funding opportunity, this is understandable. Only the HEERF III email, which was the last one sent to students, sent a follow-up for any students who did not apply within a few days.
For such an important, widespread student issue, a single email amidst a sea of other communications seems insufficient.
Others were uncertain as to whether they were actually eligible for the grants at all and did not apply for that reason.
The CARES Act did come with some requirements which had to be met in order to receive aid, although Montclair State’s website states the only initial requirement is enrollment in classes at any time since March 2020. This can be said for the newly-updated HEERF grants under the American Rescue Plan, but not the original CARES Act.
Those who did get financial assistance were also unaware they were approved. With no notification as to whether their application had gone through, students were left uncertain of what their aid status was. Many did not find out until they received their fall semester bill, which certainly provoked feelings of anxiety amongst those waiting to hear whether they would be able to afford another month of school.
According to an Instagram poll taken by The Montclarion, just 63% of students who applied for CARES Act assistance reported that they were approved and received tuition assistance. It is unclear whether this is due to the eligibility constraints in place at the time of the original CARES Act funding or other issues.
But with an initial federal grant larger than those given to Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Brown University or Dartmouth College, it is strange and deeply unfortunate that so many students who applied said they didn’t receive funding, based on the results of the poll.
There were 24,200 students eligible for HEERF II and III funding, and with so much money to go around, one can only hope that Montclair State continues its expeditious distribution of emergency funds.
However, this can be a source of relief only if university communication is clearer and more emphasis is given to financial aid opportunities in the future.
In such inherently unstable times, certainty and clarity are necessities for all, especially when it comes to money. The Montclarion appreciates that many people did receive much-needed financial assistance and hopes to see even more students being given the resources and notice necessary to obtain said assistance in the future.