PROPOSAL TO CHARACTERIZE USE OF CARES ACT FUNDS
United Campus Workers of Louisiana (Local 3465)
PROPOSAL TO CHARACTERIZE USE OF CARES ACT FUNDS
The CARES Act of 2020 has appropriated federal funding to support university students, both undergraduate and graduate, including graduate workers, as they adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. Louisiana State University (LSU) has been awarded $18.9 million, at least half of which is to be given to students currently in need of financial support amidst the crisis.
According to the legislation and the Department of Education, universities must establish guidelines for the distribution of federal money. Because it is largely up to each institution to determine principles by which the system should operate as well as processes for distributing public money to support students, we call for a just and accountable university-wide system for distributing CARES Act relief funds. We envision a centralized body, constituted of representatives from each of the diverse communities of the LSU student population, that organizes the application and distribution process for CARES Act relief funds. We refer to this body throughout the document as the CARES Act Commission.
While we know that these initial federal funds are insufficient to meet the vast, urgent need of LSU’s undergraduate and graduate students, we here offer a vision for distributing funds based on this community’s diverse needs. It is a model that attempts to equitably divide resources among all campuses and according to a fair and transparent process in which students are actively involved. As we continue to fight for political responses to the ongoing crisis, we believe this vision can form the basis for a just system of supporting LSU’s students.
Urgent Call for Aid to International and Undocumented Students
Prior to outlining our plan for organizing disbursal of the student relief portion of LSU’s CARES Act funds, we call on LSU to guarantee additional relief to its international and undocumented students. These students are unconscionably prohibited from receiving CARES Act funding, and we denounce the Department of Education’s rank nationalism in their policy guidance--specifically, their requirement that relief recipients qualify for Title IV financial aid. LSU’s undocumented and international student communities are substantial and institutionally critical, and the University must do the following to provide for their welfare:
Provide summer employment for international students, in addition to financial support for housing and food, in order to protect their visa status. The coronavirus pandemic has prevented most international students from returning home, and their visa status prohibits them from finding local work outside of the university, which leaves them in danger of deportation.
Disburse supplemental aid to international and undocumented students in a manner that will not negatively impact their prospects for achieving U.S. residency or citizenship status in the future.
Distribution of Federal Relief (CARES Act) Funds
First, we call for the process to distribute CARES Act funds to students to pay for:
● Living Expenses, including but not limited to
○ Housing costs (i.e. rent and mortgage payments, renters’ and homeowners’ insurance, and moving costs due to displacement)
○ Transportation (i.e. car payments, public transit fees, rail, air, and bus tickets)
○ Utilities (i.e. water, gas, electricity, internet)
○ Caretaking expenses (i.e. caring for children and elders)
○ Health care expenses
○ Legal representation for international and undocumented students dealing with the legal fallout from COVID-19
● Research continuity, including but not limited to
○ Home office supplies
○ Digital subscriptions to research databases
○ Work- and education-related technology
Equity in the Relief Process
Because federal funds fall far short of what would be necessary to deal with the thousands of personal and familial crises undergraduate and graduate students at LSU face, the University’s system for determining and distributing aid must balance multiple needs across many divisions within our community. To that end, LSU must administer CARES Act federal funding in a way that treats the student body as a whole and responds to the needs of all undergraduate and graduate students with equity. Therefore, all applications will be reviewed solely by the CARES Act Commission; no program or department will review applications. Federal funding will be used to supplement the existing emergency fund resources of each campus to ensure this equal access for students.
Access to emergency fund resources will prioritize the urgent basic needs of students, including food, shelter (e.g. rent), healthcare, childcare, and broadband internet. Due to the fluidity of the COVID-19 scenario, we believe that access to these emergency funds should be available on a rolling basis to those who need it in the immediate term. Making emergency funds available on a rolling basis allows for students to access the emergency funds as new crises occur such as the loss of income. Additionally, access to emergency funds will be available for educational and research resources.
Accountable and Transparent Process
The University must be accountable and transparent in how it will distribute the CARES Act funds. To that end, we call for the University to first establish the CARES Act Commission, a centralized body to distribute federal relief funds across the LSU campuses. The Commission will be composed of representatives from all LSU campuses, including students from student government associations and organizations for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. This central body will establish and implement a process to identify, assess, and respond to student relief applications relevant to their respective populations to ensure accountability and transparency throughout. To that end, the CARES Act Commission will make weekly written reports of progress that will be published online as well as shared with the respective student government associations.
The CARES Act Commission will immediately develop criteria for disbursing the CARES ACT money to undergraduate and graduate students, including fellows, workers (TAs, GAs, PTLs, etc.), and professional students both domestic and international, regardless of their documentation status. Because students will require a clear understanding of the evaluation process in order to be specific in their applications and plan their finances, the Commission will publish the criteria for receiving funds no later than the opening of the application process on a centralized web page created for the Commission.
The CARES Act Commission web page will include the application portal along with all announcements, application details (including eligibility standards and evaluation rubrics), regular weekly reports of disbursements, funding priorities, plans for rolling versus determinate submissions, and the names of Commission members. The University will link the CARES Act Commission web page from its existing Coronavirus Updates and Information page. The CARES Act Commission web page will also be linked through the MyLSU portal and any other resource sites that are regularly visited by students.
Finally, the submission and evaluation process must be streamlined and handled entirely by the CARES Act Commission. Departments and schools will not act as gatekeepers to emergency funding by participating in the evaluation process, nor will students be required to meet privately with a dean or any other administrator as a precondition for accessing the fund. As well, any communications containing submission information must state the criteria plainly and clearly. A single centralized application process will allow for clear and direct messaging from the CARES Act Commission.
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