University of Central Arkansas students will benefit from the $13,544,120 allocated to the university from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 designated to fund emergency financial aid grants. 

Effective May 21, the ARPA funds are to be provided to students to cover any cost of attendance, including tuition and housing, or for emergency costs that occur due to the coronavirus. 

The ARPA Student Grant allocation is to be used to provide emergency grants to UCA students, according to Fredricka Sharkey, Director of Media Relations. Students may decide how they use their emergency grant funds.

“The intended amount is $500 per student for fall 2021 with an additional $250 (for a total of $750) for Pell grant recipients. This is consistent with the Department of Education’s guidance to prioritize students with exceptional needs in distributing these funds. However, these amounts could change depending on actual enrollment,” Sharkey said. 

“Before spending any ARPA funds, the university must first submit a written plan and receive approval of the plan from a subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislature according to Section 39 of Act 997 of 2021,” Sharkey said. 

UCA submitted the ARPA appropriation request to the Department of Finance and Administration on June 18, and it was reviewed at the Arkansas Legislative Council - Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Subcommittee meeting on Monday, July 19. 

“Approval is a two-step process. We expect that after the ALC meets that we will be placed on the agenda for the ALC meeting scheduled for Friday, July 23, and receive approval,” Sharkey said.

According to a copy of the UCA ARPA appropriation request plan, the university is requesting a combined appropriation total of $12,630,640. The university hopes to submit a complete plan for the remaining funds from the student grant allocation and the institutional allocation within the next two months.

The total appropriation request includes $7,075,000 in student grant funding and $5,545,640 in institutional funding. 

UCA is requesting $6,125,000 to provide emergency grants to students enrolled in the Fall 2021 semester. 

From the $7.075 million total, UCA plans to use $750,000 to provide grants to students in Summer II and Summer III sessions. Finally, $200,000 will provide emergency grants to students through a separate application and review process. 

Disbursements are expected throughout the 2021-2022 academic year as applications are received and reviewed. A committee will review all applications. 

Students will be able to submit an online application outlining the need for funding due to coronavirus-related circumstances. All grants will be provided to students based on a review, and the amount per student may vary. 

“It has not yet been finalized when exactly the $200,000 will first be distributed. More specifics will be communicated once the application is available online,” Sharkey added.

Per the U.S. Department of Education, the ARPA requires that institutions prioritize students with exceptional needs, such as students who receive Pell Grants or undergraduates with extraordinary financial circumstances. The guidance clarifies that institutions can consider various factors when assessing need, such as a student’s eligibility for other federal or state need-based aid, significant unexpected expenses, loss of employment, reduced income, or food or housing insecurity.  Institutions  can also consider the needs of students who did not complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“The ARPA Institutional allocation of $13,389,614 may be used to defray expenses associated with coronavirus, including lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, faculty and staff training, and payroll, in addition to making additional emergency grants to students,” Sharkey said. 

Per UCA’s ARPA appropriation request plan, the institutional request includes $5,545,640 for lost revenue from the Spring 2021 and Summer 2021 -- through

June 30 --  semesters. 

The amount consists of $2.56 million in estimated lost educational and general revenue, with the remainder from auxiliary revenue. 

UCA plans to use $10,000 to print and distribute postcards informing students of the opportunity to discuss their financial situation with the Office of Student Financial Aid. Direct financial aid outreach is one required use of the ARPA institutional funds per the U.S. Department of Education.

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, UCA established a committee that incorporated representatives from various campus offices that have met to discuss issues related to federal stimulus funding, including student grant funding and making recommendations to university administration. 

The federal stimulus funding includes the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, signed into law on December 27, 2020, and The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that Congress passed on March 27, 2020, and the American Rescue Plan Act. 

As of June 15, the university has used approximately $586,000 of federal COVID relief funding from the CARES Act on technology for students, faculty and staff on laptops and campus tech upgrades, such as software and webcams. 

The university is required to post reports for each calendar quarter on uses of institutional relief funding.

“UCA has already distributed $10.8 million in federal funds, including the CRRSAA and CARES funding, to students,” said Sharkey.

The university’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund funding period is set to expire May 20, 2022, one year from the official award notification of ARPA funds.

“The committee has met and continues to meet to discuss potential uses of ARPA student grants and institutional allocations,” Sharkey said.

Congress enacted the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and it was signed by President Biden on March 11. 

ARPA is the third COVID-19 stimulus package and included approximately $36 billion in funds for public and private nonprofit institutions to provide emergency financial aid grants to students.

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