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New governmental and UCalgary COVID-19 financial supports for undergrad students

By Nikayla Goddard, April 26 2020 —

Not sure what supports are available to you during the pandemic? From government subsidies to University of Calgary support funds, here are some financial supports available to undergraduate students at UCalgary.

On April 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that $9 billion would be made available to aid students during the crisis. The proposed Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) was created due to considerable pushback about the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and that it didn’t encompass students. When the program completely rolls out, it will allow students and new graduates who aren’t eligible for CERB to apply for $1,250 a month, and for students with dependents or disabilities, $1,750 a month. This benefit would be available from May to August 2020, and more details will become available as the program is developed. 

Trudeau also said that students volunteering in their communities may also soon be eligible to receive a grant between $1,000 and $5,000, depending on their hours.

“Today’s announcement is great news for any student dealing with financial hardship because of COVID-19,” said Adam Brown, Chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). “Nine billion in aid is a great sign that the federal government cares, and is listening to the needs and concerns of students during this unprecedented time.”

The new Canada Student Service Grant will “help students gain valuable work experience and skills while they help their communities during the COVID‑19 pandemic,” the press release said. Students who choose to do “national service and serve their communities” will be provided with up to $5,000 for their education.

Students’ Union President Jessica Revington remarked, “We are excited to see the hundreds of students on campus who are already volunteering to fight against COVID-19, whether virtually or in person, be able to benefit and to have their commitment […] recognized.” 

Canada Student Grants will also be doubled for eligible full-time students to up to $6,000 and part-time students to up to $3,600, and the Canada Student Grants for Students with Permanent Disabilities and Students with Dependents will also be doubled. No payments are required for Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans, and no interest will accrue from March 30 to September 30, 2020. Canada Student Loans Program will also be raising the maximum weekly amount that can be provided to a student in 2020-21 from $210 to $350.

The eligibility for student financial assistance will broaden by removing the expected student’s and spouse’s contributions in 2020-21, in recognition that many students and families will struggle to save for school this year.

The government has also pledged to invest an additional $75 million in the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, Metis Education Strategy and Inuit Education Strategy. 

On April 8, the government announced temporary changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program that will help employers hire summer staff and provide young Canadians with access to the jobs they need during this unprecedented time. This program will help create up to 70,000 jobs for youth between 15 and 30 years old.

Trudeau said in a statement, “The future of our economy and our country relies on the opportunities and support we provide to Canadian students today. To promote a sustainable economic recovery, we need a strong workforce and good job opportunities for young people. That means giving them the support they need to continue their studies and encouraging them to serve their communities. Together, we will get through this difficult time.”

Currently, eligibility for international students is up in the air, with many assuming they will be left out of CESB. Revington clarified this assumption, stating, “Our understanding is that […] international students who work during the year or the previous summer do qualify for CERB. They should also qualify for the Canada Student Service Grant based on our understanding.” 

However, she added that there appears to be mixed information on the eligibility of international students for other supports such as CESB, which the government will hopefully clarify in time. “Our hope has always been that international students are included in the conversation,” she said. 

UCalgary has also created the COVID-19 Student Relief and the COVID-19 Research Fund to support students in financial need. 

“To support students affected by COVID-19, UCalgary is drawing on the Students Greatest Needs Fund to provide emergency financial assistance,” the Crowdfunding description for the Student Relief reads. “Your gift to this fund will make a real difference, allowing students to focus on their academic goals during this challenging time […] Your gift to UCalgary’s COVID-19 Relief Funds made by May 22, will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $2,500 per gift, per fund, while matching funds last.”

The Research Fund will allow for the continuing of research into the “impact of the COVID-19 global health crisis. Working in all areas, including clinical trials, basic science and improved service delivery, our research teams have quickly mobilized to create positive change. We’re investigating everything from detection of the virus to treatments for COVID-19. We are learning how we can efficiently prepare not only for a coronavirus but for future outbreaks and public health emergencies.” Funds will also be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $2,500 per gift, per fund, while matching funds last.

There are no details so far on how the emergency fund will be rolled out. 

In response to the creation of the two crowdfunding reliefs, Revington remarked, “It’s nice to see an opportunity for the UCalgary community to come together and support students. That being said, we think, as a whole, emergency funding for post-secondary students, graduate and undergraduate students, should be coming from the province and should be coming from the federal government.” 

She added that advocacy for these supports has been coming primarily from student associations across Canada, and it’s important for the government to clarify eligibility and listen to student associations pressing for needed support, especially from the provincial government. 

Revington explained that the SU is participating in other measures to continue advocating for student financial aid during this crisis. The UCalgary SU is a member of CASA, which has been advocating for supports such as a permanent increase to student loans to approximately $6,000 Revington says. 

“We’ve also been advocating to the provincial government. We maintain that up front, needs-based grants are still the best way to ensure that students have the funds they need to succeed at post-secondary,” she said. The recent $9 billion announced by the federal government are “exactly the kind of supports that we’ve been lobbying both to provincial and federal governments to provide. The federal government has been responsive to our asks and we’re now waiting to see what the provincial government will do to continue to support post-secondary students.”

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