In late December, Congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act that was signed into law by former President Trump. This provides additional provisions for higher education institutions since the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was signed in late March, towards the beginning of the pandemic. CRRSA is considered as a law, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 according to Ivon Nunez, executive director of Office of Student Financial Aid Services at NJIT.
“The amount available for student emergency grants is $4,055,485, which is the same level as CARES,” said Nunez. The most prominent variation coming with the new act is with students’ eligibility to receive aid; they do not need to meet all of the Federal Title IV requirements, such as owing on a defaulted loan, meeting academic progress or Selective Service registration for male students.
As of now, however, Nunez mentioned that unfortunately, “undocumented, international students [associated with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy] remain ineligible;” however this could be amended under the current Biden-Harris administration, Nunez noted.
Another key variation between the two acts consists of students now being given the choice to utilize their CRRSA funds to pay down their student account balance. These funds can be used to cover expenses part of attendance such as “tuition and fees, room and meals, transportation, books and supplies, technology, computers, childcare and healthcare and any other COVID-19 related emergency expenses.”
$600,000 worth of expenditures was allocated to the Fall 2020 semester from the CARES Act, but the entire distribution was spent during the Spring, Summer and Fall 2020 semesters in order to help “students with technology needs such as computers, webcams and other miscellaneous technology and Wi-Fi,” Nunez explained. “We also provided funds for food, transportation, housing and meals and other emergencies related to the disruption of campus operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
She further explained that the office was thrilled to be able to support students with their unexpected costs and needs due to classes taken virtually: “The amount of need witnessed was overwhelming, from students and their parents losing their jobs to the loss of family members from the virus.”
There are some institutions— for example, Stevens Institute of Technology— that gave each of their students a portion of funds from the CARES Act regardless of their status. NJIT’s office decided against such awarding; Nunez clarified, “if we do ‘block’ awarding like the way Stevens is doing, we may fund students who do not demonstrate need, and thus the funds will not serve the purpose.”
Pell Grant eligible students are given priority in the funds given out. The next level of priority consists of non-Pell Grant eligible students who have an emergency expense as specified and ranked by priority on the application. Nunez stated, “The award amounts are determined based on how students rank their needs, and using internal standards, the award is processed. If students elect to use their funds towards their NJIT balance, funds will be directed to pay down the balance provided they checked the consent on the application.” The maximum funds allocated to a student is either the Pell Grant level, $6,345, or the requested amount if it’s lower than the Pell Grant.
Additionally, the office wanted to ask students if their family income has decreased due to the pandemic; if so, the office can offer an Income Reduction Appeal, which is a process of reassessing need using current tax information as opposed to the one used when filing the 2020-2021 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The office has expected to finish processing the funds by the end of the first week in February; the staff has been working on reviewing the 2,000+ applications they have received in order to take the students’ emergency needs seriously. Although the Jan. 30 deadline has passed, Nunez stated “if funds are available after the review of all the applications submitted by the deadline, we will provide another opportunity for applications” by sending out an announcement.
More specific information can be found at https://www.njit.edu/financialaid/covid-19-updates-0.