BYU says no to millions in new COVID relief funds for students, university

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BYU has rejected three separate COVID aid allocations from the federal government, passing up over $170 million. (Sydnee Gonzalez)

BYU is turning down $88,556,823 in federal COVID aid — at least $44,336,287 of which would have gone directly to students had BYU accepted the funding.

The money is available as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress passed in March. The U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday it will allocate over $36 billion to universities and colleges as well as their students.

This is the latest round of federal stimulus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. BYU turned down both of the previous COVID funding allocations offered to it, passing up over $170 million between the three aid packages.

University spokesperson Carri Jenkins said BYU’s reasons for not accepting each aid package are the same and referred The Daily Universe to a May 2020 press release, which states BYU did not request federal aid and can provide for its students using its own funds. During the first round of funding in early 2020 through the CARES Act, BYU opted to use its own resources to provide students with COVID relief funding to cover unexpected costs related to the pandemic during the time between mid-March and the end of Winter Semester 2020.

Since then, however, the university has opted not to offer students additional relief funds.

When asked whether the university would match the amount of aid from the latest round of stimulus that is required to go directly to students, Jenkins said, “traditional means of financial aid are available, including some loan options for students who need immediate assistance.”

What does the decision to reject this latest round of funding mean for the BYU community? There are a number of pros and cons.

One of the cons is that students miss out on money allocated for them during the pandemic. A Government Accountability Office report found that universities that accepted funding had distributed an average of $830 per student grant from the first round of aid.

BYU previously declined to release how much money it spent on its own COVID-19 relief grants last year, but it did release those funds months later than Utah schools that had taken advantage of federal funding.

In addition to direct grants for students with exceptional need like those BYU offered students, the Department of Education said acceptable uses for the funds include:

  • Academic or mental health support systems for students
  • Discharging of student debts
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Institutional costs, such as technology to transition to distance learning

The major pro of rejecting federal funding in the past was less red tape for BYU, particularly regarding reporting and which students it could and could not distribute aid to since Trump-era rules prevented undocumented and international students from receiving aid. While reporting requirements are still in place, the Department of Education announced Tuesday that undocumented students can now access the aid.

Jenkins did not respond to a question about whether BYU has any safety nets in place to assist international students through the pandemic. Although they were eligible for BYU’s student grants last year, many international students have faced unique struggles and added hardships that have extended beyond the period of time the grants covered.

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