Students Demand Immediate Release of College’s Student Relief Funds

On Sunday, April 18, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS), the First Generation Association and the Covid-19 Student Task Force released a letter calling on the Office of Financial Aid to immediately disburse the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds III (HEERF III) to qualifying students. 

HEERF III was created on April 1 under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the program that has offered stimulus to various groups throughout the Covid pandemic. This round of HEERF mandates that 50 percent of the college’s funds be spent on student grants. As a condition of receiving the funds, the college must prioritize grants to students with exceptional need, including those who receive Pell Grants. 

In March 2020, the college received $787,291 in HEERF Student Share Grant Funds. One hundred percent of the funds were distributed to eligible students, in addition to $168,477 of the college’s own funds that were awarded.

The letter authored by AAS, the First Generation Association and the Covid-19 Student Task Force has accumulated over 300 signatories. It notes that the Office of Financial Aid had committed to distributing the HEERF III funds starting next semester in order to account for potential changes to financial aid policies. But the letter argues, “Withholding these funds until next semester leaves us without any support for the next 4 months, where national conditions can deteriorate further.” 

According to Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matt McGann, the college has not yet received its HEERF III funds from the federal government. Jae Yun Ham ’22, an AAS senator and the newly elected treasurer for the 2021-22 term, stated, “I don’t know why they haven’t been given the funds yet, that’s up to the federal government.” The college expects to receive the funds in May, which would disadvantage those eligible students in the graduating class of 2021. 

Ham explained, “To be honest, right now it’s not looking great for seniors because the predicted timeline for the release of the funds is in May and if the guidelines say that the students have to be enrolled [to receive the funds],” then those students would miss out on the financial relief. 

McGann and Dean of Financial Aid Gail Holt met with a group of AAS senators on Monday, April 19. Representatives from AAS will reportedly attend an upcoming meeting about the HEERF funds. McGann said, “Funds continue to be available via the Student Emergency Fund for students in need.”

But McGann also noted that the college has not yet finished spending its HEERF II funds. Ham explained, “We’re asking that [the administration] actually just use the money that’s with the college [right now] to fund [students] before they get [HEERF III] from the federal government.” 

“The Financial Aid Office should release the funding immediately because students need the support now,” AAS Vice President Angelina Han ’22, who was recently elected as AAS President for the 2021-22 term, said. “This pandemic has disproportionately affected FLI [first-generation low-income] students and students of color. Frankly, it does not make sense to withhold these funds until next year when the need is so urgent. This unnecessarily places undue hardship on students, who are already under significant stress.”