Some DePaul students voice concerns over CARES Act grant application


After weeks of anticipation, DePaul released applications for the CARES Act Grant

The $500 grant is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in March. Students are eligible to apply for the grant if they have completed a FAFSA and were enrolled in face-to-face classes—before they were moved online— as of March 13.

The university announced the option of applying for the grant in a Newsline article on May 8. The article stated that “the fund provides $7.1 million to help DePaul students for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19.”

The article also stated that the applying for the fund would consist of a “simple two-question application.”

The grant application was sent to students by DePaul Central via email on Tuesday, with applications being due June 15, 2020. According to the application, funds will be available on a “first come, first serve basis.”

The application is a Google Form consisting of seven questions that pertain to students’ eligibility. 

Students took issue with several aspects of the application, questioning the use of a non-secure Google Form for an important financial application.

“Immediately when I opened it up, I was kind of surprised it was a Google Form,” said senior Thomas Claxton. “I thought it was going to be something more official.”

In addition to the concerns surrounding the application’s format, students took issue with the content. The form’s last question, in particular, was the source of several student complaints. 

The question reads: “Do you prefer to decline your eligibility whereby your portion of the funding would be reinvested for other DePaul students who were financially impacted?” 

The form required students to answer the question, regardless of its confusing language. 

Some students expressed concern that the question’s phrasing might be especially confusing for international students or non-native English speakers attending DePaul.

“…You have a question that is phrased so weird, any student could have easily misunderstood that question,” said senior Kelly Garcia. “I think DePaul has a good population of students who are international students and not even that, [but] students who, you know, English isn’t their first language.” 

In addition to the confusing phrasing, some students felt as if the question was not necessary, as many interpreted it as giving the option to revoke one’s grant eligibility.

“It seemed like it was making it as complicated as it could have been for no reason,” said sophomore Sydnie Martin. “I didn’t quite understand, like if you’re clicking on the form and you’re applying to get this grant, why would you opt out [of receiving the grant]?”

While the question’s phrasing could be perceived as typical financial jargon, some students said they feel that there was an ulterior motive behind the confusing phrasing—namely, reducing the number of distributed grants by having students opt out of their eligibility. 

“Maybe I’m cynical, but my thoughts on it are that it was generally intentional, especially the last question,” Claxton said. “It seems like you had to be thinking: ‘in what ways can we kind of  cut corners’ to even include that question in the first place. Because if it were me designing [the form], and I was concerned with getting it out to students and having them get funds, I wouldn’t even think to include a question like that.” 

University spokesperson Carol Hughes refuted these claims.

“Our goal from the beginning was to serve the students and get these funds into their hands as quickly as possible,” said university spokesperson Carol Hughes in an email. “There is no benefit to the university to withhold funds from students.”

Despite student complaints, the university maintains that the application process was meant to be easily accessible. 

“ …The process was designed to be simple and secure,” Hughes said. “The team working to review the federal regulations around eligibility and distribution of these grants included representation from many university departments and SGA.” 

Hughes did not give specific comment regarding the final question’s meaning in simpler terms , despite specific requests for clarity by The DePaulia.

The initial Newsline announcement stated that the questionnaire asks students “if they wish to be considered for a CARES grant or defer funding to other students.”

She stated that students with questions regarding the CARES Act should contact DePaul Central. Students said they felt they did not receive enough guidance. 

“I think [DePaul] could have made it a little bit easier to show who could apply for [the grant] and made it more their intent to make students were able to apply and wanting to apply instead of trying to make this a little secretive and weird,” Martin said.