By Erik Galicia
Student leaders have created a pandemic stimulus fund available to all Riverside City College students after federal guidance on the distribution excluded all students who are ineligible for FAFSA.
These restrictions left Nathalie Ntwali, a first semester RCC international student, feeling uncertain about her academic future.
“If I’m not able to pay for school in the fall, I might have to go back to Rwanda,” Ntwali said.
The Undocumented Advocates Collective of RCC estimates the college is home to around 1,000 undocumented students, all of which are also ineligible for federal relief.
In response to these unaddressed needs, student leaders released applications for the Associated Students of Riverside City College Stimulus Award on May 13, intending to provide grants of up to $300 to any applicants who have paid their student fees. The deadline to apply is May 27.
“It’s for all students,” ASRCC President Angel Contreras said about the award. “We’re not going based on FAFSA. We’re not looking into residency status. The only thing that we ask is that you have your student fees paid for the academic year of 2019-2020.”
According to Contreras, ASRCC had an untouched surplus in its spring 2020 budget due to the campus closure, allowing student leaders to make the case for the aid package. The student senate approved $55,000 for the fund, which was pulled from a pool generated by payments of student fees.
The federal government’s exclusion of international and undocumented students from the coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act prompted the California Community Colleges system to file a lawsuit May 11 against Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, due to t.
“It is our hope that we stop the U.S. Department of Education from enforcing what we feel are arbitrary eligibility restrictions on relief funds that Congress approved to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19,” Eloy Ortiz Oakley, California Community Colleges Chancellor, said during a teleconference with student reporters May 12. “We will continue to stand firm behind our (undocumented) students. Our campuses will continue to be a place of safety and stability for them.”
According to Oakley, the California Community College system worked with Congress on the language of the CARES Act that was signed into law and felt the intent was to allow individual colleges the flexibility to determine who should get emergency aid.
“We were operating on that basis until the Department of Education issued an F.A.Q. about the use of CARES Act funds,” Oakley said. “In that F.A.Q. we saw language that was contrary to Congress’s intent.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction that allows for local level flexibility in determining which students should receive aid from the federal bill. Because a decision will require time, Oakley recommended Community Colleges slow their distribution of federal money in case an authorization to allow relief for excluded students is made.
ASRCC intends to distribute its aid as soon as possible.
“It shouldn’t be that long,” Contreras said. “We’re reviewing all the applications as they come in. By the end of the first week of June, students should start getting their stimulus checks.”
The Undocumented Advocates Collective also announced an application for the Student Equity Emergency Grant which can be accessed from the financial aid tab in MyPortal. The deadline for this grant is May 22.