STUDENT ADVOCACY TOOLKIT FOR
CARES ACT FUNDING
In April 2020, Swipe Out Hunger launched this student advocacy campaign, urging students to ask their institutions to disburse CARES Act funding in a fair, equitable, and transparent manner. As a result, we engaged 30 campuses on this campaign to ensure every cent of the $6 billion for emergency aid gets into the hands of students. We trained over 50 students at our #FairCARES launch & advocacy training. As part of these efforts, the below advocacy toolkit was developed by Swipe Out Hunger in partnership with Rise and Challah for Hunger. Thank you to Michelson 20MM Foundation for their support of this toolkit.
Table of Contents
– The CARES Act Emergency Aid Overview
2. The Three Steps to Advocate
– College/University President Sign-On Letter
– Template Letter to Student Affairs
– COVID-19 Student Survey Information
3. Amplify Your Advocacy
– Tactic #1: Create a Petition: Building Power And Awareness
– Tactic #2: Build a Coalition: Strengthening Your Advocacy Network
– Tactic #3: Inform your Community: Talking Points, Letter to the Editor Templates, and Social Media Guidance
– Real Examples of #FairCARES Distribution
4. Contact Us
Thank you for taking part in the CARES Act Emergency Aid toolkit. By putting this toolkit into action, you’ll join students from across the country who are working to ensure these emergency aid dollars reach students hit hard by COVID-19.
The CARES Act Emergency Aid Overview
Millions of college students are facing financial hardship following the effects of COVID-19. In response, Congress passed the CARES Act which included $14.25 billion for public and private institutions of higher education. Of that amount,
$6.28 billion is required to be distributed directly to students as emergency aid
. Emergency aid means it is a free grant, not a loan that ever needs to be repaid.
The Department of Education directed each institution of higher education to direct the funds to students to be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. Funds can be used on expenses related to cost of attendance such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care.
Our organizations have launched this campaign to ensure these dollars are distributed effectively, equitably and with transparency to our most impacted students. We believe there is a need for students to be at the table in helping to shape how these dollars are distributed.
The Three Steps to Advocate
Check out these three action steps you can take to keep students’ basic needs at the forefront of your school’s aid distribution and response to COVID-19 as a whole.
College/University President Sign-On Letter
Your Office of the President is a powerful voice on campus. Organize your peers and then reach out to your campus’ president, asking them to commit that your school will follow four core
principles in its approach to distribute these dollars (we’ll refer to these principles as the SLEET framework).
Dear [College President],
As you know, on March 27, 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act. As part of this stimulus bill, our campus received $XXX,XXX** in emergency aid dollars which the Department of Education has directed campuses to distribute directly to students who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
As proud students of [College / University], we urge your office to commit to the following principles in disbursing the emergency cash assistance under the CARES Act.
1) Student Leadership: Appoint a group of at least one student to work as an equal contributor to your emergency financial aid distribution.
2) Equity: Proactively distribute aid to students who are financially vulnerable and eligible for this emergency aid, such as students receiving Pell grants, first-generation college students, parenting students, students of color, and Foster Youth. Since many international students and undocumented students are ineligible for this emergency aid, work to make available a separate fund for such students.
3) Expediency: Students needed help weeks ago. Commit to begin distributing funds within 30 days of receiving them from the U.S. Department of Education.
4) Transparency: Communicate proactively with students and with the public about how the college or university is distributing aid.
By committing to each of these four principles as you distribute these funds, you help ensure these tax dollars are effectively spent supporting our most impacted peers.
We ask that if your office agrees to these principles, and if you are interested in adding [College/University] to a public list of institutions of higher education committed to the above principles, please let us know by emailing [firstname.lastname@example.org].
[Your Name and Student Org]
**You can look up the amount of funding your campus will receive here.
Download the Template
Template Letter to Student Affairs
In addition to contacting the Office of the President, work with the appropriate staff members on campus who will be essential in designing the Emergency Aid program’s distribution.
I am sending you this letter today as a proud campus leader and student of [College/University] .
As you know, on March 27, 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act. As part of this stimulus bill, our campus received $XXX,XXX in emergency aid dollars which the Department of Education has directed campuses to distribute directly to students who have been financially impacted by the pandemic. My peers and I have reached out to [President NAME] and urged [his/her/their] office to commit to four guiding principles when distributing the emergency cash assistance:
1) Include student voices
2) Uphold equity
3) Operate expeditiously
4) Maintain transparency
We hope that by adhering to these principles, our school leadership will effectively spend the emergency aid supporting our most impacted peers. Accordingly, my [CHAPTER/ORG/CLUB] and I believe in working alongside administration to ensure a successful emergency aid distribution model. To that end, is your office the appropriate team to collaborate with on this matter? If so, my [CHAPTER/ORG/CLUB] and I would like to establish a partnership with your office and be actively involved in the distribution of the emergency aid.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has severely impacted the [College/University] student community; many of us are experiencing an overall inability to access crucial basic needs resources. We would like to partner with you and your office to collectively aid and strengthen our community during this time and beyond.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this partnership. If you would like to speak further, you can reach me at email@example.com or 123-123-1234.
[Your Name and Student Org]
Download the Template
Example of a Student Email
Below is a condensed version of an email that Ashlyn Anderson, Director of Swipe Out Hunger at University of Tennessee Knoxville, sent to various contacts that she has worked with in the Office of Dean of Students, Student Life, and Student Engagement on 4/13/20.
Good morning and happy Monday! I hope you had a restful and refreshing weekend. Now that we are fully immersed in online life, I wanted to check in about the status of the Big Orange Meal Share, and specifically how we can continue to support students who were using that resource even while campus dining may not be open. As Swipe Out Hunger and SBNC, we have compiled a Resource Guide for students which we have shared widely, but I would still like to gauge what services are still being offered that we can promote.
In recent conversations with Swipe Out Hunger HQ, we have discussed the recent legislation with the CARES Act and $7 billion dollars going towards higher education as a result of the emergency aid coronavirus response. In reading further on the requirements of distribution of the money, the funding must go to “cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care).” I was wondering if the DOS had any insight on this CARES Act funding for higher ed, and if so, ideas for the distribution and allocation towards various programs. If so, I know our team would be interested in being involved with the planning and advocacy of this effort.
Finally, I wanted to mention a few opportunities related to evaluation of student experiences during this time to gauge evidence-based, real-time data to drive policy and decisions… As we are all well aware, the impacts of COVID-19 on students can be extremely detrimental, and the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice has taken initiative to create a survey to learn about basic needs security during the pandemic… I have copied information below on the Hope Center “#RealCollege During COVID” survey, and I ask that you consider this opportunity for our campus to participate and support data driven decisions in response to the feedback of students.
Please let me know your thoughts on our participation in this national survey to gain insight on the student experience in a free of charge, non-invasive, and completely confidential way. I can forward you the full email from the Hope Center, or feel free to visit their website to learn more about the details. Again, the deadline for this opportunity is this Friday April 17th, so we must act quickly on this opportunity after considering all thoughts and options.
Thank you all for your time, and let me know if you would like to set up a Zoom call to discuss any of this further. Talk to you soon!
COVID-19 Student Survey Information
As we prepare to return to campuses with a higher and distinct need, it will be vital to hear from students directly to inform your own actions, educate administrators on students’ needs from firsthand accounts, and assure that students’ basic needs are at the forefront of decision-making.
Swipe Out Hunger has developed a short COVID-19 student survey to capture the impact it has had on students at your school. It is not a requirement to partner with campus admin to disseminate or publicize the survey, however if you are able to collaborate with campus administration to field the survey, we invite you to do so! The survey consists of 6 questions and the data will:
● Help you understand the student experience during COVID-19. This will better inform basic needs programs and administrative recommendations during campus shutdowns and upon your return to campus
● Act as an advocacy tool on campus. Students will likely be returning to campus with higher levels of basic needs insecurity. Data is evidence you can provide to show the need among your campus’ student population as you advocate for the continuation and increase in basic needs programs as a response to the shifting economic circumstances as a result of COVID-19.
● Contribute to state and national legislative goals. The more student experiences and testimonials shared at this time, the better equipped students, organizations, and legislators are to advocate for college student aid and support during and in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Campus-specific results will be quickly returned to each campus. Submit an interest form if you would like to participate or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Amplify Your Advocacy
Tactic #1: Create a Petition
Building Power and Awareness: Circulating a campus-wide petition is a key tactic that helps capture how many other students would like to support a distribution plan that follows the SLEET approach. It’s an effective way to get the attention of your President and other
upper level administrators, as well as spread awareness across the student body about the influx of this aid.
1. Use the language in the President letter to create a petition endorsing the SLEET Framework. Personalize the petition for your campus by including the amount your campus will receive.
– Google Forms
– Contact Rise or Swipe Out Hunger for help setting this up
2. Distribute the petition among student groups and students who are engaged in advocacy and activism at your campus. Even the least artistically inclined people among us can make graphics with tools like Canva.
3. Report back to us at email@example.com or tag us on social (graphic templates are included below) if your college President agrees to use the SLEET framework in distributing aid and we will highlight them on our websites. If your President is unresponsive or does not agree to these principles, check out the coalition building tactics below. Reach out to Swipe Out Hunger at any point in your process for additional strategy support.
4. If you are able to communicate with your campus leadership, please ask them to use the Hope Center’s Guide to Maximize the Impact of Cares Aid and the Hope Center’s general Guide for Emergency Aid Grant Distribution. Also, if your campus is adhering to the SLEET framework, it is wise to send them a note of gratitude.
Tactic #2: Build a Coalition
Strengthening Your Advocacy Network: Movements are created through relationships. Bring everyone to the table to teach them about the stake they and their community have in this campaign, so they become advocates themselves. Getting
buy-in from fellow students, administrators who work in basic needs security, and campus organizations ensures that decision makers hear what your community is asking for.
1. Identify like-minded student groups and friends. Invite them to be a part of your petition and letter to the president.
2. Identify staff, faculty, and admin who are already in touch with financially vulnerable students, such as your campus pantry manager, financial aid counselors and your Dean of Students. Ask them to sign onto your petition and start a dialogue asking how they can support the campaign. Learn if they will be involved in aid distribution, and offer your support to spread the word to your friends and peers about how to receive this aid. A template letter for contacting Students Affairs Admin is included below.
3. Inform your coalition partners and the admin you’re in contact with on important info such as what is the CARES Act Emergency Aid fund, explain how students are being impacted by the pandemic (research conducted by Rise can be found here), and highlight why traditional financial aid distribution models the campus might use won’t be as equitable or effective as SLEET. If they’re already adhering to the SLEET framework, it is a good time to thank them for their inviting the student voice to the table.
4. Create 2-3 graphics for social media that make it easy for allied student groups and friends to share the petition and info about emergency aid. Sample social media graphics and captions are included at the bottom of this kit.
What to do if your president our campus administration isn’t responsive:
1. Reach out to a student government member. Ask them to pass a resolution endorsing the SLEET method, relay the letter to the President, and publicize information on how students can receive this aid via newsletters and through their social media channels.
2. Build public pressure. Respectfully but earnestly @ them on twitter asking why they haven’t signed on yet.
3. Embrace the media landscape. Ask the campus newspaper, campus blogs, or other platforms to promote this campaign and publicize information on how students can receive this aid.
Tactic #3: Inform Your Community
Information is Power: Equip your team with as much information as possible about the available CARES funding using the following talking points and FAQs for reference.
How much money will my university receive?
Find out how much your institution received here.
Who can I call for more ideas on how to design our emergency aid program or effective ways to get more students informed on the aid?
Can only the financial aid office distribute these emergency aid dollars?
No, the legislation allows for any entity on campus, or even an affiliate company like Edquity to help distribute those funds.
Does receiving this emergency aid from the CARES Act impact my financial aid next year?
No. These dollars will not be deducted from any future financial aid check. These funds are not connected to Title IV funding. The Aid office doesn’t even need to be involved.
What are the reporting requirements my campus has to make to the Department of Education?
30 days after they sign the agreement, a report is expected. Every 45 days after that point, another report is expected. Reports must include the following:
1. How grants were distributed
2. Amount of each grant awarded to each student
3. This info does not need to be personally identifiable. Names, student IDs etc are not required. You can simply write student A, B and C.
4. How you went about calculating the grant
5. Any instructions given to the student about the grant
Who is eligible for this emergency aid?
All part-time and full-time students who are also Title IV eligible are eligible to receive emergency aid. Title IV eligibility includes but not limited to the following: U.S. citizenship or eligible noncitizen; a valid Social Security number; registration with Selective Service (if the student is male); and a high school diploma, GED, or completion of high school in an approved homeschool setting. This guideline from the Department of Education disqualifies international students as well as any student without a social security number. For more information on these guidelines you can access a memo by the Hope Center here.
My school says they are using the CARES Act funding to reimburse themselves for money they already gave to students in emergency aid. Is this allowed?
According to The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA): “Institutions may use HEERF [Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund] Student Share funds to reimburse themselves if they provided emergency grants to students, but only if the institutional emergency grant:
1. Was made to cover authorized expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19;
2. Was made to students eligible to receive HEERF Student Share funds, as noted in AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A, How Do We Apply Title IV-Eligible Student Guidance For CARES Act Grants To Students?; and
3. Was made on or after March 27, 2020–the date the CARES Act was enacted.”
According to these guidelines, if you believe your school has wrongfully reimbursed themselves with funding that was intended for students, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What if my school transfers my emergency aid grant into my student account, and the money is automatically used to pay off an outstanding balance owed to the school?
This form of emergency aid grant deposit into student accounts is considered unethical fund distribution. The money you are entitled to receive from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) is designated for your own personal financial relief.
This is a direct quote from National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrations (NASFAA): “In any case, the disbursement of the HEERF grant to the student must remain unencumbered by the institution. That is, any outstanding balance (debts, charges, fees, or other amounts owed to the institution) may not be deducted from the HEERF grant, not even with the student’s permission.”
If this has happened to you or students at your school, please reach out to email@example.com.
My school is already adhering to the SLEET framework. What can I do?
If your school is already adhering to the SLEET framework, report back to us by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to feature your college’s leadership on our website and beyond!
Letter to the Editor Templates
Pitching “Letters to the Editor” to your campus newspapers can be an effective way to gain visibility for your advocacy efforts. Depending on your institution’s handling of the CARES Act funding, you may want to applaud their efforts, positively reinforcing their will to take action. At other institutions, Letters to the Editor could be the perfect moment to apply more pressure in a public way. Feel free to use these templates verbatim (changing the personal information in italics), or edit the wording to fit your voice. Remember: if your campus newspaper won’t print it, you can also pitch your local newspaper on it as well. If you have any questions, reach out to Swipe Out Hunger’s Director of Communications Tenille Metti Bowling at email@example.com.
I am once again proud to be a Tarheel! As a third-year student at University of North Carolina (UNC), I know that our school, students, and community never back down from a challenge. I also know that when a crisis arrives at our doorstep, Tarheels stick together and support students in a meaningful way.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit our country and community, UNC students felt the impact not only with the health risk, but also the economic damage. Thousands of our fellow students have struggled with layoffs, furloughed jobs, the campus shutdown, rising food prices and more.
Thank you to our school administration for standing with your students and showing how supportive UNC is towards its students. Go Tarheels!
As a proud Tarheel at the University of North Carolina, I am deeply concerned about my fellow students at this time. From layoffs, furloughed jobs, a shut down campus, rising food prices and more, thousands of our fellow students struggle to thrive in these circumstances.
However, this is an opportunity for the UNC community to come together and prove that Tarheels stick together. As the COVID-19 crisis has impacted thousands of UNC students from food insecurity, housing costs, and lost jobs, the federal government has stepped in to provide $XX million in emergency aid to UNC students.
This money– allocated directly to students in the CARES Act– will be distributed by our university administration in the coming weeks.
As these funds are distributed, I urge our campus administration to stick to the SLEET framework endorsed by Swipe Out Hunger, RISE, and Challah for Hunger. Principles like Student Leadership, Equity, Expediency, and Transparency must be at the forefront as UNC plans to distribute aid to students.
Tags To Advocate
Instagram/Facebook: @swipeouthunger @challahforhunger @risefreeorg
Twitter: @swipehunger @campushungerproject @risefree.org
Articles To Share
Out of 5 College Students Face Financial Troubles Due to Coronavirus Pandemic
● When Coronavirus Closes Colleges, Some Students Lose Hot Meals, Health Care, and a Place to Sleep (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
● When colleges close, what happens to homeless students? (The Boston Globe)
Swipe Out Hunger thanks Rise and Challah for Hunger for making this campaign possible.
Real Examples of #FairCARES: SLEET In Action
Looking for examples of how colleges got the ball rolling on #FairCARES? Check out the following examples from schools across the country:
Students At The Table: Administrators at Minneapolis College quickly and thoughtfully created a fund distribution plan. Before the plan was executed, administrators and students participated in a Zoom meeting to collaboratively discuss the pros and cons of the plan.
Student input is being prioritized at the University of Michigan, where the COVID-19 Campus Challenge was launched on May 21. All University students “looking to propose possible solutions for an in-person and public health-informed semester” are welcome to participate. They’ll split up into teams focusing on housing, transportation, food insecurity, mental health, co-curricular activities, and diversity, equity and inclusion, and will later propose their projects.
In California, several student leaders from the University of California, California State University, and community college leadership teams sent a letter to the administration about how they can help their students.
Transparent Plans: The University of West Florida created very detailed eligibility criteria, including a table that breaks down various amounts of distribution aid into several brackets depending on need. The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee also has an informative distribution plan.
The University of Tennessee – Knoxville has been continuously reaching out to students about CARES Act funding distribution. On May 4, 2020, UTK published an article that clearly outlined the disbursement plan in which 90% of the initial CARES Act funding will be received by 9,000 eligible students, and emergency aid-eligible students can apply for the last 10% of the funds.
In addition, San Jose State University has also been actively reaching out to students through various modes of communication (including social media) to notify them about CARES Act funding– and if ineligible, other forms of assistance.
Expedient Application Processes: The University of Southern California, Santa Ana College, and the University of Texas at San Antonio were quick to develop and publish their applications for student submission.
If you’d like to talk further about these examples, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions? Contact Us
For support on putting this toolkit into action, email email@example.com.
Student leaders from Challah for Hunger can seek additional support from firstname.lastname@example.org.
To continue your advocacy or learn more about student organizing, contact email@example.com.
Thank you to Michelson 20MM Foundation for supporting this toolkit.