Occidental set to receive new round of aid from Biden’s American Rescue Plan

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Julia Driscoll/The Occidental

Over a year after transitioning to online instruction, COVID-19 continues to heavily effect Occidental, lowering the number of students on campus, creating new costs and removing a significant portion of the revenue the college would receive in a typical fiscal year. According to Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Finance, Planning and Operations Amos Himmelstein, Occidental is now set to receive its third round of government aid as part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Himmelstein said the College has received two rounds of government funding, beginning with the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act I last spring.

According to Associate Vice President of Finance Barbara Valiente, of the $1,474,674 received from the CARES Act I, $737,337 was directly distributed to student grants and the remaining $737,337 was used for additional costs and lost revenue. Himmelstein said the college received the second round of the CARES Act called the HEERF II funds Dec. 27. The college distributed this endowment, also known as the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) funds, directly to students. According to Himmelstein, from a total of $2,114,553 the college received, $737,337 was used for student emergency grants and the remaining balance went toward specific COVID-19 related needs.

“[We used those funds for] institutional needs for testing, barriers, and all the things that we need to do to operate related to COVID,” Himmelstein said.

According to Valiente, Occidental created a process for Pell-eligible students to automatically receive credit and opened an application to allocate funds to other students with financial need during the first two arrivals of higher education aid. Pell-eligibility is another form of financial aid and comes in the shape of a subsidy that does not have to be repaid by students. In a March 15 email, Himmelstein announced the second round of COVID student emergency funds, including an automatic $1,000 to be directed towards all of Occidental’s high financial need Pell-recipients. According to Director of Financial Aid Tiffany Mendez, Pell Grant recipients have each received this $1,000 credit to their student account from supplemental COVID-relief grants.

“All other financial aid recipients can apply for a grant of up to $750 each that can be used for any part of their cost of attendance or to meet pandemic-related emergency costs as defined by the CRRSAA,” Mendez said via email. “This includes the cost of tuition, food, housing, health care, mental health care, child care, and technology.”

Mendez said students do not need to provide documentation and that applications remain open until all funds are allocated.

The college’s third round of funding under Biden’s American Rescue Plan, reportedly amounting to $3.7 million, is also supposed to be divided in a similar way with at least half of the allocation going directly to student aid. Himmelstein said he could not confirm this number until the college receives the aid, which may arrive in a few months.

“We haven’t even gotten official notification from the government about how much we’re getting, what the use is for,” Himmelstein said. “We can’t do anything with it until we get guidance.”

Himmelstein said that while the new aid has not arrived yet, the College is still considering where exactly the funds could be directed. According to Himmelstien, one option for the incoming aid could take incoming students into account as well.

“The guidance on lost revenue is not necessarily the path we’re going to take,” said Himmelstein. “There are other things in there like COVID expenses, like testing.”

Himmelstein said the aid will not be incredibly impactful in helping the College recuperate all of the lost funds that came with the pandemic.

“It’ll probably help defray those costs,” Himmelstein said. “Maybe it’s more than we’re spending, but it’s not going to replenish the loss.”