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‘Huge’: Treasure Valley students buoyed by CARES Act grants in 2020

A couple hundred dollars likely made the difference between Skye Hester jump-starting a higher paid career or staying a waitress at IHOP.

Hester, 21, started 2020 waiting tables at the national breakfast chain. But when she got the news she was expecting a child she decided to head back to the College of Western Idaho for a mechatronics degree to support her daughter. Weeks away from starting the program, the pandemic hit and her restaurant closed. But due to her plans to take leave to have her baby and head back to school, she couldn’t access unemployment.

[‘Fair is all we ask:’ Idaho airports see big discrepancies in CARES Act funding]

Hester paid some of her expenses with a Pell Grant, a federally-backed cash scholarship for low-income students. But the grant didn’t cover daycare, diapers, or a working laptop to complete her courses online due to the pandemic. So, she joined thousands of Idaho college students and applied for a cash grant through her university for help.

A lifeline

The $1,700 she received that summer ended up being a lifeline. 

“Without that grant, I don’t think I would be in school right now,” she said. “Honestly the money helps. Especially when you’re a single mother trying to support a five and a half month old baby and trying to do all of that and also getting the tools necessary for my schooling.”

At the end of March, Congress passed the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to staunch the bleeding of the national economy after the country largely shut down due to COVID-19. The bill included aid for small businesses, assistance for airline employees, $1,200 cash grants for many Americans, and additional funds for unemployment payments. It also included millions in aid for universities to pay out to students.

Many Americans under certain income requirements received $1,200 checks throughout the spring and into the early summer from the CARES Act, but the checks only came to taxpayers on record from previous years. College students, who are frequently dependents on their parents, were largely left out of the aid and facing cuts to their income in restaurants and other low-wage jobs disproportionately impacted by the stay-at-home orders.

To be eligible, students had to be enrolled in the spring or summer semesters, meet income requirements, expect less than $10,000 in aid from family members and be meeting their academic requirements.

How much did Idaho schools receive?

Statewide, Idaho’s colleges and universities received millions in aid, which they used to shore up school operations and pay out grants to students. CWI received roughly $1.8 million from the federal government in July, and paid out grants to 4,621 students, including Hester.

Mark Browning, vice president of college relations for CWI, praised the grants ability to make a difference in students lives who attend CWI because of economic barriers.

“We are the most cost-conscious school in the state having not raised tuition for five consecutive years, but even at those remarkably affordable levels, our students simply need help,” Browning said in an email. “Financial help. The CARES monies certainly made a difference for our students.”

Boise State University received the most funds out of all of the Treasure Valley educational institutions with $5.4 million. The school distributed grants ranging from $500 to $675 to over 5,400 students in the spring semester, according to the school’s website.

The College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene University also received funds, with $809,015 and $410,334 coming in respectively, according to the schools’ website. CoI reports it distributed $404,508 in funds to 731 students. NNU reported it used all of its funds for student grants and distributed payments to 995 attendees.

Josh Scholer received two grants in 2020 to support him while he studied at the University of Idaho College of Law.

The University of Idaho received roughly $3.4 million from the CARES Act, and paid out $2.8 million to students. Josh Scholer, 24, joined 5,476 other students who received a grant on top of the $1,200 payment most Americans received. While he said the grant was not the defining factor for him continuing to press through his second year of law school, he said the $500 he received in the spring and the $250 in the summer semester made a difference in his life.

“That’s my rent for the month,” he said. “That is groceries for a couple of months, or however you want to splice it. I think for me and so many other students that live off student loans while trying to better educate themselves this was huge.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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