CARES Act provides funds for students affected by coronavirus

MCCC students affected by the coronavirus will receive funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

The CARES Act was passed March 27 and will provide money to American workers, families, small businesses and students impacted by the virus.

“This over $2 trillion economic relief package is designed for protecting the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19,” said Joe Verkennes, director of marketing and communications.

According to Verkennes, a $14 billion portion of the CARES Act fund will go towards institutions of higher education.

“The most significant portion of that funding allocation provides that $12.56 billion will be distributed to institutions using a formula based on student enrollment,” Verkennes said.

From the amount given to each institution, at least 50 percent of the funds must be reserved to give students financial aid grants intended to cover costs related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19, Verkennes said.

According to a press release on MCCC’s website, the college’s allocation of funding through the Act is roughly $1.3 million. Half of those funds—$650,258—will be given to students in the form of emergency grants.

Students can apply for these emergency grants on MCCC’s website. In order to apply, students must be Title IV eligible, meaning students must have a FAFSA on file with MCCC and be approved to receive federal loans and grant programs awards.

MCCC President Kojo Quartey said a task force has been assembled to decide how MCCC will use the money provided by the CARES Act. The college has a little over a year to spend the funds, Quartey said.

“Plans are to distribute these funds initially to students who incurred direct costs associated with technology needs such as (the) purchase of computers to access classes online, and the cost of internet access and other costs directly attributable to COVID-19,” Quartey said. “Our intention at this point is to make this process quick and easy for students.”

The task force is headed by Valerie Culler, interim vice president of enrollment and student success and financial aid director.

One job of the CARES Act task force is to decide how the money will be distributed to students based on instructions from the government.

“There are many federal regulations we must comply with, as well as significant reporting requirements to the government,” Culler said of the task force. “We have preliminary guidance from the U.S. Department of Education regarding the restrictions of how the emergency grants to students may be determined.”

Quartey said the amount of money that MCCC was given through the Act was decided based on a formula that includes enrollment figures and the number of students receiving money from Pell Grants.

According to Culler, the other half of the funds received from the Act will be spent on MCCC itself. Although the task force has not yet decided how to spend this portion of the money, Culler said the task force will continue to meet and discuss their options for the funds based on instructions from the government.

“The federal government has put restrictions on how institutions are allowed to spend the institutional share (of) the CARES Act funding, so it is the job of the task force to read through all of the documentation that provides the guidance for how funds may be spent and to make recommendations for how MCCC can utilize the funding,” Culler said.

Because the Act impacts many departments on campus, Culler said faculty member Jeffrey Peters and student representative Alexis Cowell have been made a part of the task force.

Verkennes, a member of the task force, said the group has been meeting via video-conference to discuss how and when CARES Act funds will be distributed to students based on clarifications from the federal government.

“We are still working on this process and will have information available very soon,” Verkennes said.

Quartey said he has also consulted other institutions to see how they plan to spend their funds from the Act.

“All community college presidents meet every week, so we have discussed this,” Quartey said. “Most, if not all are still unclear, but ideas include paying for technology, students’ housing and utilities (and) scholarships.”