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Phoenix 101: What You Need To Know About the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)

Zack Miller | The PhoenixLoyola's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students are celebrating the recent Supreme Court victory, but are prepared to keep on fighting.

Loyola University has access to over $5 million in aid from the federal government and it has to go directly to students. 

Students can now apply online through Loyola’s website for a grant to help offset the costs they’ve faced due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent campus closures. 

The funding for these grants was given to Loyola through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) — a section included in the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed March 27. 

The Phoenix answers common questions about these grants and explains what students should know before applying. 

Who’s eligible to apply for a grant? 

Full or part-time students who were enrolled in in-person classes at Loyola March 13 — when the university transitioned online — are eligible to receive the grant after submitting an application. International students, undocumented students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students aren’t eligible for the grant due to the federal guidelines for all universities.

Rob Friedlander, the advocacy and organizing manager at Swipe Out Hunger, said their organization is advocating for schools to offer alternate pools of funding for these ineligible students. Swipe Out Hunger aims to end food insecurity on college campuses and also partnered with other organizations to create a tool kit for students to ensure HEERF funding is distributed fairly. 

“Loyola had no choice in not being able to give [international students, undocumented students and DACA students] financial aid from this pool of money,” Friedlander said. “We are really pushing and reminding schools that some of their students most hurt right now are those international and DACA students.”

The university is offering all undergraduate and graduate students — including those who aren’t eligible for HEERF grants — additional money through The Loyola Commitment, according to Loyola’s website. The funding is for students who have the greatest financial need and for those whose families have experienced significant changes to household income. 

This funding can only go towards money owed to the university, such as unpaid tuition, fees, housing and meal plans. Money for The Loyola Commitment comes from donations from alumni and others.  

Students who have submitted a Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — which gives students access to federal loans and grants  —  will have first priority to HEERF funding. After the priority application process, students who didn’t submit FASFAs will also be able to apply for the remaining available funds. 

Loyola estimates about 17,000 students were enrolled in eligible programs and about two-thirds of those students completed a FAFSA, according to the university’s website

What is a “HEERF eligible expense”?

Any expense related to the disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus. This includes any costs relating to food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care, according to the Department of Education’s federal guidelines.

What documentation is needed to apply for a grant? 

Students must submit an application explaining the expenses they’ve incurred since the university transitioned online. The application also asks for expense documentation — such as receipts — to back up an applicant’s written explanation. 

“We do advocate for low barrier programs, meaning a student shouldn’t have to prove they’re in need in order to receive help and resources,” said Emily Kass, senior programs coordinator at Swipe Out Hunger. “There could be less barriers to receiving [the grant] than having to provide receipts.” 

Susan Bodin, a treasurer at Loyola, said the university recognizes collecting documentation is an extra step in the application process, but it’s a customary federal grant requirement. If students don’t have the supporting documentation they’ll still be able to receive funding, she said.

“Because students who were incurring expenses in the midst of the disruption may not have retained receipts or may not have ready access to them, Loyola is also allowing students to simply provide a written explanation of each reimbursable expense,” Bodin said.

When’s the deadline to submit my application? 

To be included in the priority application process, students must submit their applications by June 10, according to Loyola’s website

If I owe Loyola money, will my grant go towards that? 

No. Loyola isn’t allowed to hold grant money from students based on fees or charges they owe to the university, according to federal guidelines.  

When can students expect to receive the money from the grants? 
Loyola plans to begin disbursing money within two weeks after the priority applications close, according to its website

A previous version of this story said at least half of the money must go to students, that was incorrect. The approximately 5 million dollars going directly to students through HEERF grants is half of the total amount of CARES act funding awarded to Loyola.

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