When the COVID-19 consumer stimulus package was first announced, many critics pointed out a seemingly massive flaw in the proposed distribution of financial aid. While dependents age 17 and under helped their parents qualify for an extra $500, dependents over the age of 17 – the status of most college students – would not qualify for a stimulus check of any kind.
While many criticisms of the stimulus package are justified, the final bill actually does include financial aid for college students – provided they’re willing to jump through a few hoops. Unlike the $1,200 stimulus checks that were mailed out or transferred automatically, student aid has been distributed in a much more complicated fashion.
As such, many students are leaving that stimulus money on the table. If you’re a student, here’s what you may be eligible for.
What Students are Eligible for
As part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in March, universities received funds to be distributed directly to students in need. This is known as the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).
The amount given to individual students depends on the university, which can set its own parameters on how much to allocate. Applications are generally evaluated based on how much the student has been financially affected by COVID-19, their parent’s income and other factors. Information from several universities showed that grants were between $100 and $1,500.
Like many COVID-19 related government programs, HEERF is only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. That’s why students should apply immediately. Some universities still have leftover funds, while others may have already depleted their resources.
If you have questions about the program, contact your university’s financial aid department. They’ll be in charge of distributing the funds, so you can direct questions to them. HEERF money does not count as taxable income.
Who is Eligible for HEERF?
Both part-time and full-time students are eligible for HEERF. Applicants need to be citizens, permanent residents or “eligible noncitizens” to qualify. Undocumented students, including DACA recipients, do not qualify. Applicants also need to have a valid Social Security number.
Students who are not eligible for need-based aid or who didn’t file a FAFSA are still eligible for HEERF.
Only students who were attending a college with in-person classes are eligible for HEERF. If you were already going to school 100% online, you won’t be eligible.
Right now, colleges are focused on distributing funds to students who were enrolled during the spring 2020 semester or quarter. Those who were enrolled for the summer semester or who will be attending in the fall may become eligible at a later date.
How to Apply for HEERF
Financial aid startup Frank and textbook rental company Chegg have partnered together to create an easy online form where students can apply for HEERF. It only takes a few minutes to fill out, and some students reported seeing money in their bank account just a few days after submission.
You’ll have to provide the following:
- Student email address
- Mailing address: Choose a mailing address you have access to in case your check is mailed. Don’t write down your college mailing address if you’re staying with your parents.
- College you’re attending and current school year, i.e. freshman, sophomore, junior or senior
- Student ID number: This should be on your physical student ID card or your online student profile.
- Whether or not you’ve filed the FAFSA for the 2019-2020 school year
You’ll also have to choose from one of the following reasons why you’re asking for a grant: if you were fired, furloughed, had your hours reduced or incurred an unexpected expense that you can’t afford because of COVID-19.
If you don’t see the funds within a couple of weeks, contact your school’s financial aid department and ask them if your application was received and processed.
Other Government Programs Students are Eligible for
Students may also qualify for federal programs designed to help workers affected by COVID-19.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was created as part of the CARES Act. It expands unemployment benefits to those who normally wouldn’t qualify, including freelancers, gig workers and part-time employees.
Those who qualify for PUA will receive a $600 weekly unemployment benefit until July 31, 2020.
If you apply and are approved, you’ll receive back pay for all the weeks you were eligible.
Students who worked part-time or as independent contractors may be eligible for PUA, even if they didn’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.
PUA is considered taxable income, so try to set aside 25-30% of that amount in a special savings account so you’re not blindsided at tax time.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Advance
The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Advance is available to all freelancers and independent contractors. College students who work as Lyft drivers, Postmates delivery drivers or Rover dog walkers can apply for this program, which pays $1,000 per person. You don’t even have to prove that your business was negatively affected by COVID-19 to apply.
The money is a grant, so it doesn’t have to be repaid. Visit the Small Business Administration website to apply. The SBA claims that approved applicants will see the money within three days, but there may be delays.
When you apply for the EIDL Advance, you’ll have to fill out an application that also determines your eligibility for an EIDL loan. Don’t let this confuse you – you do not have to accept a loan if they offer it.
Contact Your College Directly
Students who receive HEERF funds may find the amount lacking. If your spring or summer studies were disrupted because of COVID-19, you can reach out to the financial aid department directly and ask for a partial refund.
Some students have gotten refunds for tuition, housing and meal plans. If you bought special equipment, software or technology to conduct courses online, ask them to reimburse those fees.
Students who were studying abroad and forced to return home should also ask for a refund. Every college has its own policy, and it never hurts to ask.