COVID-19 financial relief

An East Carolina University student views the ECU website for CARES ACT Funding, which informs students about the grant and the purpose of it.

As COVID-19 and economic instability may continue to create financial uncertainty for East Carolina University students, students affected by the pandemic may be eligible to apply for funds allocated to ECU by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF-III) by Sept. 19.

Associate Dean of Students Lauren Thorn said the HEERF-III is federal funding provided to higher education to support students and institutions. The funds will go directly to student funding, Thorn said, as well as to cover university materials and supplement costs created by the pandemic. East Carolina University received close to $30 million in direct student aid, which university officials hope to distribute within the first weeks of October.

ECU has created an online form where students can describe the effect the pandemic has had on their finances, Thorn said, as many individuals and families were affected by quarantine, job losses, emergency medical bills, technological needs and more. She said the online form allows the university to assess and respond to student needs.

“Lots of different reasons (for the HEERF-III),” Thorn said. “But we know that just having that emergency funding where the students can tailor it to their specific needs really helps.”

ECU has also assisted students with outstanding balances due to the university, Thorn said, which allows students to register for classes efficiently, re-enroll for the academic school year and graduate. She said the HEERF-III is the third wave of federal funds provided to institutions of higher education in response to COVID-19, following the CARES Act and the HEERF-I and II.

Thorn said the university was made aware of the HEERF-III in May and since then has made student awareness of the funds a priority. Alongside the online form, Thorn said ECU mailed informational postcards about the funds, sent out mass emails and created an accessible QR code for students to scan.

The applications and funds are accessed by a small team of ECU financial aid officers and employees, Thorn said, and as of Aug. 26 the university has received close to 5,000 applications. Assessing the funds and assisting students is rewarding for the team, she said, but the process can be lengthy and she asks for patience throughout the coming months.

“This is federal funding that is provided to universities across the country to assist with recovery from the pandemic and continuing to support our institutions as well as our students,” Thorn said.

Director of University Scholarships Melonie Bryan said the HEERF-III aids both students and ECU by splitting the funds equally between direct student aid and university needs. She said direct student aid funding from HEERF-III will be close to $30 million.

Bryan said within ECU’s online form, an option for further financial aid judgment is available for students. She said she strongly encourages students to take advantage of this option, as financial aid is currently determined by financial circumstances from 2019. 

Students can still receive HEERF-III funding as well as be eligible for additional aid, Bryan said, and further financial aid judgment gives students the opportunity to receive more assistance through ECU grants and the Federal Pell Grant.

“We’re actually here to help the student, at the end of the day it’s to help the student be successful and persist in college,” Bryan said. “While of course they’d all like the money tomorrow, it is a process and there are federal guidelines we have to follow.”

Michael Hook, senior construction management major, said he applied to both the HEERF-I and HEERF-II last school year. He said he received financial aid from both funds and has already submitted his application to the HEERF-III.

Hook said he believes a lot of students can benefit from the aid and could use funds to cover student housing costs and online learning created by the pandemic. He said the funds are a great opportunity for ECU students

“I think it’s (HEERF-III) been pretty accessible,” Hook said. “I mean they gave multiple opportunities to give back to people who are struggling, but I think they might could do a little better advertising it.”

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