By: Ben Terzi, Contributing Writer
The Towson University (TU) Student Emergency Grant Fund, and the Faculty and Staff Emergency Fund have become permanent fixtures following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, the University created the Food Insecurity Grant to address existing food insecurity amongst university members. Last Spring, the fund saw expansion thanks to funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEERF) funds. The fund, renamed to the Student Emergency Grant Fund, also has limited additional funding from the Towson University Foundation and Food Insecurity Grant.
The University also created the Faculty and Staff Emergency Fund to address financial insecurity amongst its faculty and staff.
“The [Faculty and Staff Emergency Fund] was kind of created as the pandemic had begun as we saw some need for it, and also saw the success of what the Student Emergency Fund could do,” said Sean Welsh, Interim Vice President for Marketing and Communications.
The fund can assist employees with food, shelter and utility expenses. Loss of transportation and significant healthcare costs, as well as childcare and medical prescriptions are also covered under the emergency fund. Ineligible expenses include debt, loans, non-essential utilities like cable and non-emergency travel.
“There has always been an intention for [the Student Emergency Grant Fund] to be permanent,” said Brian DeFilippis, Executive Vice President for the TU Foundation and Vice President of University Advancement.
According to President Kim Schatzel, the decision to keep these funds in place beyond the span of the pandemic stems from the understanding that financial insecurity won’t end with the pandemic.
“We still have issues of emergency needs by our faculty, staff and students,” Schatzel said. “So even when we’re past the pandemic we are going to support those that are struggling in our community.”
According to DeFilippis, the TU Foundation began planning an emergency fund for students in the spring of 2019, which became definitive in July that same year. By the time the pandemic took place in early 2020, they had already raised $18,000 for the fund, which increased to $181,000 by the end of fiscal year (FY) 20.
The student and faculty and staff funds raised about $43,000 at the start of FY 21. In order to provide adequate support for students, their goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of the year.
Applicants can apply online, and are required to be actively enrolled in classes, and prove their need for financial support. Students are eligible to receive funds once an academic semester.
The Division of Student Affairs will review each case and disburse the necessary amount of funds. Awarded amounts for each accepted applicant will vary based on each unique financial need, and is deposited into the student’s bank account.
Due to altered needs by the student population for distance learning, expenses eligible for funding include technological needs, which include gaining sustainable internet access, required software for classes and necessary hardware like laptops and webcams. Ineligible expenses, at the moment, include food, tuition, housing and course materials. Approved awards from the Student Emergency Fund will not reduce a student’s financial aid.
As for the Faculty and Staff Emergency Fund, applicants are required to be actively employed by TU: directly employed with the college or with a company contracted to provide on-going service at TU. Those who apply must also prove financial need as a result of the pandemic, and demonstrate immediate need for monetary assistance.
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Anthony Skevakis, believes the fund has been impactful for TU’s student population.
“It’s allowed them to maintain their status as a student, quite honestly,” Skevakis said. “I think one of the most urgent things that students reported immediately outside of food was utilities, Internet access, the basics of what you might assume you have if you’re here in an apartment or living somewhere, you know, on or off-campus.”