Emergency Fund significantly depleted after COVID surge
The Willamette Emergency Fund, which distributed close to $100,000 to students between March and December 2020, only has $5,000 remaining for this year and $6,500 to distribute next year, according to Tori Ruiz of Student Affairs.
The purpose of the Emergency Fund is to provide assistance to students in emergency situations. According to the [Emergency Fund webpage], the fund can be used for the following reasons: replacement of essential belongings due to theft or natural disaster, emergency or temporary housing assistance, costs not covered by insurance related to emergency medical care, emergency transportation costs related to family death or illness, safety-related needs and assistance with food, rent or utilities due to an emergency situation. A student seeking to use the fund must first have exhausted all financial aid options and their support network (family and friends). The fund does not cover tuition or textbooks.
During the onset of the pandemic, the Emergency Fund was supported by federal stimulus money, which allowed the university to give out greater amounts of money to students. “Because of the large amounts we were able to give when we had the CARES money, word spread like wildfire because it seemed for a time that the criteria was almost ‘mention COVID—get money’,” Ruiz said. “It was really hard when we had less money and had to rein that in some because all of the needs that get sent into us are valid.” Professor Laura Taylor of the Economics department, who serves on the Budget Advisory committee, said that there remains unused federal stimulus money.
The fund is dependent on restricted funding: donations to Willamette designated specifically for the fund. It is not a part of Willamette’s budget. The fund was also given a grant by the [Community Action Fund for Equity and Sustainability] (CAFES), which the university has not touched “because there’s still restricted funding available, and the priority is to spend the restricted funding first,” Taylor said.
When asked if the fund is sustainable, Ruiz said it would need continued donations to be so. Taylor said that she is grateful for the continued donations towards the fund, and that the fund is not in serious risk of running out. “It’s a revolving gift fund, it always has potential for more donations, it theoretically could go to zero or get more donations,” Taylor said. “But we haven’t had to ask ‘oh my god what do we do’ yet. If every student asked for $500 we wouldn’t have sufficient funding, but that’s not going to happen.”
The Emergency Fund has seen a sharp decline in student requests. The fund existed before the pandemic, but only saw 11 requests for the 2019-20 school year before March 17. Between March 17 and Dec. 14, 2020, requests spiked to 198, but by spring 2021, the number of requests had fallen to just 28. In a poll sent out over The Collegian’s Instagram story, 62% of respondents said that they do not know what the Emergency Fund is, and 95% said that they have not used the fund.
The fund is advertised mainly through word of mouth: Ruiz said that all Student Affairs staff are aware of the fund, and can point students who come to them towards the fund when appropriate. She added that the Emergency Fund, among other support resources, can be found on Willamette’s [Financial Wellbeing] webpage.
The maximum amount of money a student can get from the Emergency Fund across their time at Willamette is $500. However, Ruiz encouraged students to always apply if they need money: “We know that folks are experiencing hard times, I encourage everybody to always put the application in—we will consider every application… I think there’s always an opportunity to give folks resources. If I can’t give them money, I want to make sure they’re equipped somehow.”