CUNY launches emergency relief fund to aid students in need amid coronavirus pandemic

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Photo courtesy of CUNY

The City University of New York (CUNY) launched a Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund on April 8 to help students facing financial hardship during the COVID-19 crisis. 

With initial support from the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation and the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation, the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund will distribute grants of $500 each to thousands of CUNY students who are coping with the severe economic fallout of the extraordinary public health emergency. 

“The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating economic impact on many of our students, and this unprecedented emergency fund will provide rapid-response financial support to those who need it most,” said Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez. “We applaud the Petrie and Dimon Foundations, whose generous and swift response to this growing crisis allowed us to quickly establish this critical support for our students.”

CUNY serves 275,000 degree-seeking students whose median household income is about $40,000 a year; 38 percent are from families earning less than $20,000. Nearly half work while in school, and many now find their jobs and incomes eliminated, drastically reduced or threatened — exacerbating financial pressures and challenges including food and housing insecurity and lack of access to health care.

The Dimon Foundation and the Petrie Foundation each announced initial gifts of $1 million to establish the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund, the first university-wide student assistance program of its kind at CUNY. 

The generous gifts build on the Petrie Foundation’s history of supporting CUNY with both emergency aid and innovative programming, and on the longstanding relationship between CUNY and HERE to HERE, founded by the Dimon Foundation, to prepare students for future success.

“Having met many CUNY students from all 25 campuses, I can attest to their work ethic, persistence, talents and dedication to their families and communities,” said Judy Dimon, founder of the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation and founding chair of HERE to HERE. “They deserve our support and we are proud to stand with the Petrie Foundation, and many other funders who are lining up to provide it.”

Cass Conrad, executive director of The Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, said they’re honored to be able to support the Chancellor’s Emergency Fund during a challenging time for so many New Yorkers. 

“Not only will this fund provide near-term relief to CUNY students and their families, but we believe it will help ensure that they can remain in school, complete their degrees, and ultimately contribute to the revival of the city,” Conrad said.

In addition to the $2 million seed money, the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund is launching with an additional $1.25 million in contributions from corporate and philanthropic donors including: $500,000 from Robin Hood, and $750,000 from JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, The Jeffrey H. and Shari L. Aronson Family Foundation, The Pinkerton Foundation, The Solon E. Summerfield Foundation and the Harman Family Foundation.

Students will begin receiving emergency grants of $500 each the week of April 20. The recipients will be chosen by lottery from a group of about 14,000 students who have been identified as meeting financial-need and academic criteria. With additional funding, the University will seek to deploy emergency grants to more students in the coming months. 

The emergency fund is the latest financial-assistance resource CUNY is providing to its most vulnerable students in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Over the past few weeks, the University, with support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, quickly purchased 30,000 computers and tablets to distribute to students who need them in order to fully participate in distance learning and keep up with their studies. 

Additionally, about 1,600 CUNY community college students who were issued $400 campus cafeteria food vouchers through a City Council pilot will be getting the money as a payout they can spend anywhere for food. And 117 foster care students in the CUNY Fostering College Success Initiative will receive $425 emergency grants. The assistance comes from a donor wishing to remain anonymous.

Rodriguez is inviting other foundations, organizations and individuals to join them in this time of urgent need. 

“Helping CUNY students means helping New York get through these terribly difficult and uncertain times so we can all start looking ahead with optimism,” Rodriguez said. 

To contribute to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund, visit: cuny.edu/emergencyfund.

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