Bill could mandate financial assistance for student emergencies

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The proposal sets a maximum of $1,000 for each eligible student.

By Janie Medelez

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Texas Senate Bill 884 calls for the creation of an emergency financial aid grant program for students at public institutions of higher education.

A bill that would help students with emergency funds was left pending at a Texas State Senate Committee on Higher Education meeting April 10.

With the session set to end May 27, the likelihood of the bill being approved by the state House is declining.

“It’s really a retention effort to allow the student to stay in school, Tiffany Cox Hernandez, dean of student success, said in an interview April 16.

The legislation would enable this college to provide emergency aid grants of up to $1,000 per student to assist students in dealing with unexpected or unforeseen expenses, events or circumstances that could decrease enrollment.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board would solicit and accept gifts, grants and donations from any public or private source for the program.

“So, it’s not a loan, so you don’t have to repay it,” Hernandez said. “I’ve heard it stated over and over again, it’s roughly maybe $300 that would keep a student from coming back.”

“If we could just come to the table with $300 in an emergency, that would really help a student in that moment be able to stay in school and then they can continue in being successful all the way through,” Hernandez said.

The Coordinating Board and this college student financial aid officers would develop the rules for students to qualify.

“The committee might change it a little and they may approve it to look a little different but as it stands, I think we can provide up to $1,000 per student based on need,” Hernandez said. “Car broke down; I had to move unexpectedly and unexpected childcare expenses.”              

This college would have to meet the criteria for eligibility under the grant program, it must offer one associate’s degree program, have student enrollment in which at least 30 percent of students receive a Pell grant or are members of an underrepresented minority population, as determined by the Coordinating Board or be designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a minority-serving institution.

One of the criteria this college already meets is being a credited degree grantee institution, which means all of the colleges in the Alamo Colleges District are accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to grant associate degrees and certificates.

This college would have to develop an application process.

She said the advocacy center could process the applications and administer the money.

The legislation mandates colleges to review applications within 48 hours of receiving them and distribute funds within 48 hours of their approval.

The applications must also be available electronically, in English and Spanish, according to the bill.

The legislation states the amount of grant money awarded to a college under the program may not exceed $50,000 per academic year.

“With 20,000 students, $50,000 goes pretty fast,” Hernandez said. “THECB will actually administer the money and it won’t be available before the 2020 school year, which would give the coordinating board time to figure out how to distribute the funds.”

The bill states THECB may not award grants for an academic year before the 2020-2021 academic year.

Sec.56.067 (Section 3), SB 884 reads, “This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect Sept. 1, 2019.”

The legislation states that this college would need to collect and maintain data regarding the awarding of emergency aid.

Hernandez went before the Senate committee on behalf of Dr. Robert Vela, president of this college to testify in favor of the bill.

State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, District 26, authored the bill and contacted Vela in April to discuss the bill.

“Sen. José Menéndez, he’s been a really strong friend of SAC, and represents us,” Hernandez said. “He brought us funding to build the Victory Center; he created support for funding to build veteran housing, which we’re working on; he comes out often and he’s just incredibly supportive of our veteran students and students in general.”

“In order to meet the ambitious goals, set by the 60X30TX, we must vigorously work to minimize the financial obstacles on our student’s path to graduation in emergencies that post one of the greatest risks towards stability,” Menéndez said at the Texas Senate Committee on Higher Education meeting April 10.

The 60X30 Texas Higher Education Plan aims for 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 to have a certificate or degree by the year 2030.

The report can be found at http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/index.cfm?objectid=EDCAFB08-D542-11E7-A03300505694284C/.

Menéndez quoted a 2017 U.S. Federal Reserve student survey that states 44 percent of respondents said they couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense without selling possessions or borrowing money.

The report can be found at https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/other20170519a.htm/.

Such financial emergencies can derail students entire college education, not only by distracting them from their studies but also by forcing them to consider dropping out in order to pay debt,” Menéndez said.

Hernandez said this college plans to notify students through the advocacy center once the funds become available for disbursement.

Students can view the archived live stream for more information on the bill at https://senate.texas.gov/av-archive.php, part II of Senate Committee on Higher Education April 10.

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