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UMaine students discouraged by lack of communication surrounding financial support

Many UMaine students woke on Friday, April 25, with the hopes that they would receive funding from the federally distributed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The University of Maine System had previously released a statement noting that students would be experiencing adjustments to their MaineStreet accounts, which would be calculated by April 21, and that they would be notified if they would be receiving extra refunds from the university as the UMaine community struggles with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the amount of money disbursed on April 25 did not meet students’ hopes of the funding matching the federal allocation for Americans who filed independently of their parents when completing either the 2018 or 2019 taxes. The CARES Act determined that independent filers would receive a one-time payment of $1200 in order to provide resources for those displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many college students were excluded from these one-time stimulus checks and had hoped that their university institutions would provide opportunities for financial relief.

“The Federal CARES Act provides urgent relief for our universities and support for our students,” Chancellor Dannel Malloy said in a statement released April 24.  “We have had the final guidance for just a few days and already have a plan to begin distributing payments starting the first week of May.”

The university, which was allocated $17.2 million in funding through the federal CARES act, is required to disburse half of this money directly to students to cover emergency expenses that arose from the disruption in campus operations. However, students noticed that the financial aid disbursed to them on Friday was not even enough to pay a $25 parking ticket issued by the UMaine Parking and Transportation Services.

The issue became a hot topic on the UMaine Memes for Drunken Teens Facebook page, a Facebook page run by UMaine students to discuss current issues using humor and shared images. Three memes about the lack of financial support gained over a thousand interactions in two days.

However, the memes led to a sense of support amongst UMaine students, with students providing emotional support to their peers in the comments of the posts. One comment thread linked students to a shared resource page, which elaborated on the disbursement of the CARES Act funding allocated to UMaine.

Through collaboration, third-year political science student Kevin Fitzpatrick and third-year history and secondary education student Marlana Mix were able to inform the UMaine Memes for Drunken Teens group members that the refund was a portion of the money that they would be receiving from the university in the coming weeks.

Mix, who works as a peer advisor and has worked with the UMaine Financial Aid office, noted that the funding from the CARES Act would be disbursed through a tiered-need system.

“The refund [that students received on April 25] was a reimbursement of the student activity fees from the University of Maine Student Government,” Mix confirmed. “Basically, the week of May 4, UMaine is spreading the CARES Act [money] to students based on tiers.”

Other students in the group noted that they had learned much more from the interaction with Mix than they had from the UMaine administration.

“I just learned more from the comments on this meme than I have from the website,” Ildiko Sandor, a second-year psychology student, noted.

While the CARES Act funding will be disbursed according to a tiered system, which factors in the number of credit hours that a student is taking, many students await news that they will receive any form of financial aid as they struggle with job loss and impending bills. The UMaine community has remained resilient in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many Black Bears providing resources for their displaced peers. However, this issue highlights the need for clearer communication between the University of Maine System administration and the student body, as many are uninformed of or discouraged by the ways that the University of Maine System is seeking ways to financially support students.

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