COVID-19 Information Center

Member FAQ: Emergency Aid and Responsive Student Supports


Have you heard from students that they need emergency assistance during the pandemic? Is your organization responding, and if so, how?

NSPA Resources:

In the News:

NSPA Recommendation:

As part of the CARES Act legislation, the U.S. Department of Education has released or will soon release over $6 billion to colleges and universities to use specifically for emergency aid. (Read the press release here.) Scholarship providers and others working with students that need emergency aid should encourage those students to contact their colleges and universities to determine if emergency funding is newly available.

Member Answers:

In terms of emergency need, so far what we’re hearing is food or travel. Students may need help to come home from where they are. Many students work in the food industry and/or will be affected job-wise, but that situation is changing rapidly. It’s hard to know what will be required just yet. In terms of virtual support, we are still learning how to do that. We are using Google Hangouts, which our students really seem to like, and setting up individual video conferencing – there is something powerful about being able to see each other.

Traci Lanier, 10,000 Degrees

Among the thousands of students who applied to Thurgood Marshall College Fund for emergency funding, they requested the following (in order of frequency): housing assistance (rent, mortgage, utilities); IT/learning needs (laptops, WiFi hotspots, online learning resources); food; and transportation/travel. TMCF didn't offer support for health care needs (such as medical, dental, and mental health expenses) but I hear from other colleagues that they're seeing requests for these items as well.

Erika Orsulak, Thurgood Marshall College Fund

We are planning on creating a group called COVID-19 Support in our social media platform in order to provide the scholar community space to lament the change of their status of their college year, or if they have a particular need around housing or food or transportation, that space could facilitate those conversations. We have thousands of scholars around the country who are willing and able to help, so we feel that providing that space will be a good opportunity for them to share and help each other that way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a heavy lift, with a lot of new infrastructure put in place, but we are supporting remarkable young people and have an alumni network with many who wish to help.

Jamie Williams, Coca-Cola Scholars

At College Success Foundation-Washington State, College Services just started creating a resource page. Please feel free to use as much or as little as you need. And keep checking because we are updating it weekly.

Maria Rebecchi, College Success Foundation

As a response to the COVID-19 situation affecting our students, we have created an emergency fund to support currently enrolled students with online learning supplies (laptop, Wi-Fi), food support, bill support and transportation support. We are primarily sending students Google Chromebooks, grocery store gift cards, and visa gift cards to students.

Erin Vogel, Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars

There are some resources here on emergency aid tool kits, etc. We have set up an Emergency Fund that will supplement emergency funds from universities since all our ~300 scholars are still current students. Our counsel advised us to also have an Emergency Fund Agreement in place to protect the Foundation from liability. For example, we paid for housing during self-isolation for a scholar directly to the Airbnb. This agreement reduces our liability if something terrible happens while they are staying there.

Nancy Grandison, A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation

We are doing something similar. I don't know the size of your award, but one best practice I have found is that shipping visa gift cards is tricky. There is a federal regulation around the amount of visa gift cards one person can buy in one day ($10,000) and sites place restrictions on the number of each type of card you can buy (IE, I could only buy 3 $200 Visa gift cards in one day). Additionally, there are restrictions on the places you can send cards - IE you cannot send to a PO Box, and I had trouble sending any to 2 addresses in Nevada, but could not find any documentation around why. I'm not sure if it's a state regulation or just a fluke. My work-around was to split up the work among team members.

Miranda Lewis, Amazon

We prioritize paying directly to third party vendors (ex. airlines, mechanics, etc.) when feasible. It saves us from reimbursing the student and it allows me to keep track of receipts and invoices as they arise. We sparingly using gift cards, but we try to stay away from them because of the regulations mentioned. If in the event the student needs cash, I work with our Business Office to write a check to the student.

Laura Cunningham, Abele Family Foundation

NSPA has talked to multiple scholarship providers about their emergency funds:

Member Central Scholarship has had an emergency fund available to its scholarship or interest-free loan recipients for about two years now. The application is limited to Central Scholarship recipients only, and they do not market it other than to mention it to finalists during the scholarship awarding process and then in other recipient-only communications. Undergraduate and graduate students can apply for up to $1,000 at a time, for up to $2,000 per academic year. So far only a few students have requested funding beyond one academic year. Only a few emergency requests have been rejected over the course of the two years. They let the students identify their emergencies, though most often fund medical costs (even for insured students), including for mental and dental health expenses; and transportation. They cannot fund expenses that are covered by the Cost of Attendance figure (meal plan costs, for example). The application is short, typically taking ten minutes or less to complete. Students provide invoices or other documentation and as often as possible, Central Scholarship tries to pay the vendor directly, instead of students. Staff is committed to reading the application within two business days, and to replying to the student in that timeframe. The timeframe from application to credit card or check disbursement is from 2 to 14 days, depending on how payment is made (credit card is faster). Staff other than those working directly with recipients select the students, to ensure objectivity. Recipients are asked to write thank-you letters to the donors. During Covid-19, they have noticed a slight uptick in emergency fund requests.

Horatio Alger Association recently set up a COVID-19 emergency fund for their current scholars. This opportunity is available to their 7,000 current scholars, with the intent to provide funding to get scholars to a safe place where they can continue their learning. A separate Emergency Support Resource Program has been launched by their Alumni Advisory Committee. They shared information with their scholars via targeted email and text blasts, and have thus far received approximately 1,200 unique requests (from about 900 scholars). Emergency expenses covered fall into five categories: Travel, Housing, Food, IT, and Other. Most requests are for under $1,000. Their biggest challenge has been the quick processing of the high volume of applications, and liaising with students to get accurate information on their expenses and to make payment (for example, their bank information).

National Scholarship Providers Association

National Scholarship Providers Association

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