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Cowboy CARES offers students financial relief amid coronavirus

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The coronavirus has sent the world into an economic crisis that has affected many members of the Oklahoma State University community. That’s why OSU is offering financial assistance to students through the Cowboy CARES Emergency Grant Fund.

“When the federal government passed the CARES Act recently, it contains a lot of measures to provide assistance due to the coronavirus situation,” Chad Blew, the director of Scholarships and Financial Aid, said. “Part of it is targeted for higher education, and part of that higher education money is to provide direct assistance to students. So that’s what (Cowboy CARES) is. It’s that federal money made available through the CARES Act.”

Students can apply to receive money through the university’s financial aid website, and the application for the fund opened on April 16. By Tuesday, about 2,000 students had already applied.

Physiology pre-med junior Colby Hill said he applied because his job cut his hours so now he can only work 15 hours per week

“I’ve got to pay for my rent still, and I gotta buy groceries because I don’t have food because I’m paying for this stuff by myself,” Hill said. “So I need a little extra help.”

Hill said he still hasn’t heard back about his application.

Blew said the university is still working out how much to award students, but they are following guidance from the Department of Education. The university received $8.3 million to give to students, and the maximum amount a student can qualify for is $6,195. Blew said the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid hopes to start getting back to students as soon as Friday, but he’s not sure that will be possible.

The amount a student qualifies for will be based on need. The university will look at whether a student has experienced income disruption, whether they have experienced any additional expenses because of coronavirus and the student’s financial situation before the pandemic.

Pro pilot senior Josh Jones said he hopes to receive at least $600 from the fund. He got this number by looking at his normal paychecks and the hours he would have normally worked over the past month and figuring out the difference in how many hours he did work.

“Due to everything going on and having to move back home, I have a reduced pay almost,” Jones said. “(My job is) still giving me a little bit of hours, but not being able to have that full amount every month, that’s why I applied.”

Blew said if a student’s financial situation has changed since the last time he or she submitted the FAFSA, he encourages that person to contact the Office of Financial Aid directly to see if he or she qualifies for additional aid.

The money students receive is for them to spend how they see fit. Although the money will be disbursed through students’ bursar accounts, the university cannot use it to pay any outstanding bills on a student’s bursar account.

“Normally, when we disburse scholarship or federal aid to a student’s bursar account, it pays the bursar account first,” Blew said. “Then, the money that’s left over goes directly to the student. It’s an important point because students are used to when they get a refund, that means their bursar balance has been paid to zero and this is the money that’s left over.

“We don’t want students to think when they receive this money from CARES that means their bursar bill is zero because that is not the case.”

Cowboy CARES is one of several ways OSU has tried to help students who have been financially affected by the coronavirus. In March, the university issued partial refunds for housing, dining, parking and campus fees. Additionally, student employees were able to receive up to two weeks’ pay if they were unable to continue working in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blew said he encourages anyone who thinks they qualify for aid through Cowboy CARES to apply, and the Office of Scholarships and Financial aid is working to get that money

“OSU is committed and remains committed to doing all we can to help students in this situation,” Blew said. “So we are very happy to have this Cowboy CARES funding from the Department of Education to help us with that.”

news.ed@ocolly.com