Victims of last year’s hurricanes and wildfires may be eligible for relief. However, the application process for higher education institutions to receive relief funds is incredibly difficult. We joined partners from all over the country in urging the Department of Education to loosen these burdensome application requirements so that those impacted by hurricanes or wildfires can access immediate help and support.
Here are Student Debt Crisis’ comments to the Department of Education:
Docket No. ED-2018-ICCD-0028
Student Debt Crisis strongly opposes the burdensome application process placed in front of higher education institutions seeking emergency relief funds allocated after last year’s natural disasters. Specifically, we oppose the requirement of a pre-application and an application to access these funds, both arbitrary requirements that are not required by the law establishing disaster relief funds.
Our organization represents tens of thousands of students, borrowers, parents, and others who live in areas harmed by large-scale emergencies. It is our duty to ensure that emergency relief funds are distributed to institutions immediately so that they can begin to provide support to victims on campus and in their local communities.
Further, the Department conservatively estimates that applications would require at least 40 hours each to complete. The application process itself is a major burden and will have the effect of deterring applicants with the greatest need.
It is well known that many hurricane-impacted regions still remain without access to high-speed internet, electricity, and basic needs. The conditions in these distressed areas make the applications difficult to access and even harder to complete. On top of that, many people have not accessed grants before, making additional barriers to access available funds particularly challenging.
The application process is convoluted, as demonstrated by the fact that some hurricane guidance is available in Spanish, while applications and the instructions to complete them are not. Beyond the inconsistency of the Department’s delivery of material and information, the failure to provide critical information in Spanish may actively preclude potential applicants in Puerto Rico from accessing needed funds.
We are writing to request that the Department of Education waive these burdensome application requirements.
Potential fixes to application proposal:
1. Abandon the form-based process altogether. Instead specify suggested uses of funds to institutions (while requiring clear documentation of how it is spent if funding is accepted) and automatically disburse using indicators such as:
a. Financial need including the number of aid recipient
b. Targeted relief to counties and municipalities that sustained the greatest damage
2. OR, if the Department does not abandon a form-based process, the agency should work to make this process significantly less burdensome.
a. Combine the pre-application and full application to restart operations into a single, streamlined application
b. Specify a short page or word limit for responses, include examples of potential funding uses at the beginning of the form
c. Combine the four separate questions into a single, streamlined request for a brief description of the institution’s plan to become fully operational, similar to the application for emergency funds to K-12 restart operations