The fund was created in a joint effort between the Office of Philanthropic and Alumni Engagement and the Division of Student Affairs. It allows undergraduate, graduate and professional students in need of emergency financial assistance to apply for a grant from the fund to cover such expenses. The maximum grant allocated to a single student is $600, and approved allocations are paid via PittPay.
“At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with students finding out that they’d be at home, need to move out of their on-campus residences, I sat around and I was really thinking about ways in which we could use the remainder of the SGB budget to be of some assistance to students,” Brown said.
According to the fund’s webpage, SGB will allocate the grants to students to cover costs such as medical necessities, sudden loss of housing, food insecurity, overdue utility bills and unexpected transportation. The fund guidelines do not allow the grants to cover expenses such as tuition, funds to cover lost or stolen items or non-essential personal bills such as credit card and phone bills.
Brown, SGB Allocations Chair Ben King and Vice President and Chief of Finance Ashima Agarwal wrote the original fund proposal sent to Kenyon Bonner, the vice provost and dean of students, Brown said. In the proposal, SGB donated $200,000 toward the emergency fund, with the donation coming out of the board’s surplus fund from previous years.
“We knew that many students experienced unexpected costs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we also knew that because many events were cancelled, a significant portion of student activities funds would go unused, so we felt that it would benefit students to propose to Dean Bonner that he move some student activities funds to a relief program,” King said in an email.
According to Brown, Bonner then matched the board’s donation. The fund is also accepting donations from other sources via PittGiving.
Once a student applies for the grant, their request is reviewed by the Student Emergency Assistance Fund Advisory Committee. According to University spokesperson Kevin Zwick, the committee is made up of five members appointed by Dean Bonner, who represent the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Provost and the Office of Financial Aid.
The committee’s original goal was to provide students with the decision on their allocation within 48 hours, Zwick said, but the timeframe for response was shifted to “within 72 hours” once the applications began coming in.
“The committee is currently reviewing requests from 73 students,” Zwick said in an email. “At the time of this email, all requests are still currently under review, and no allocations have been distributed. All current applicants will receive notice by the end of this week.”
This is not the first time SGB has set up a fund for students in need, Brown said. The Crisis Relief Fund is an ongoing $2,000 fund to benefit students with up to $500. According to Brown, this service hadn’t been widely used in many years, so the board wanted to expand that project to help a broader student body.
“Through our FixItPitt’s and talking to students, it was clear that the pandemic has put a lot of students in tough situations where they were losing income, losing a place to live,” Agarwal said in an email.
Brown chose the $600 maximum allocation, he said, based on what he found to be the average rent for off-campus housing in Oakland.
“I looked at a couple of different sites that gave an estimate for what rent in Oakland looks like, and that was kind of how we determined the number,” Brown said. “The number was also partially determined by what we thought the maximum amount of seed funding would be, and then dividing that by a number to see how many students we would be able to help with the fund.”
Brown said there “isn’t any talk” of dissolving the fund at the end of the semester.
“This is one of the biggest nationwide holds we’ve seen in U.S. history,” Brown said. “Work lives have been disrupted, but that doesn’t mean students don’t have financial emergency needs that exist.”
Zwick said the University’s current focus is assisting students with “unanticipated and insurmountable expenses” during the crisis, and the permanent status of the fund will be discussed in the future.
“The guidelines for the fund aren’t meant to further disenfranchise students during a hard time,” Brown said. “I would encourage students to apply. I would encourage students to take advantage of this fund to use it for their needs, to explain why they would need an allocation as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it positively affects students in the future.”