UT students say HEERF funding is crucial for those facing financial insecurity during pandemic

Marisa Huerta, News Reporter

UT has released new federal funding for students in waves since summer 2021, which students say is a huge relief for those facing financial insecurity during the pandemic.

After the University distributed the initial $15 million in Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds, it decided to create a more complex distribution plan for HEERF II funds, said Brian Dixon, associate vice provost of student aid and affordability. While the University is now distributing HEERF II funds it received in the spring, it only allocated a portion of the funds in order to save money for a later distribution, Dixon said.

Dixon said over 35,000 students received funds through block grants upon meeting the FAFSA criteria, while other students received funds by applying and demonstrating financial need.

“What we’re hearing from students and their families is there are a lot of families that have been impacted (by the pandemic), we’re looking at financial need,” Dixon said.

The University also received over $43 million under HEERF III, or the American Rescue Plan, which is expected to be distributed next year.

Psychology sophmore Ahitza Roque said her family experienced financial strain during the pandemic when her dad lost his job.

“I had the idea of getting a job once I came onto campus because I wanted to pay my own bills and everything, but I started to get nervous about working during a pandemic,” Roque said. “I couldn’t exactly afford to get sick (and pay medical bills). So it just put a strain on everything.”

Roque said she received $2,700 in September and was able to use it for food and rent in West Campus.

“It’s daunting to be in a school where the person next to you could be struggling to find their next meal while … the person to your right could be a fifth generation millionaire,” Roque said. “It’s hard to … not feel like any day can pass where it’s gonna feel like the end of the world because you just don’t have enough money.”

Roque said the University should come up with long-term solutions to help students with financial needs, but HEERF was certainly a step in the right direction.

“It lifted a huge weight off my shoulders,” Roque said. “I didn’t have to question where my last couple months of rent are gonna come from, and I didn’t have to try to ration my food.”

Dixon said at the end of October that all students who did not receive block grants, including international and undocumented students, can apply to receive funds leftover from the last disbursement.