What emergency help is available for students during COVID-19?

A student works at her computer while at home.

A guide to financial resources that can help students with food, housing, health care, and other needs triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Our College & COVID-19 series is part of our commitment to students and families during this time of uncertainty. Our goal with this series is to provide the resources, information, and guidance you need to help you successfully continue your college journey.


Students have been living with COVID-19 for about a year now and are following new practices because of it. Classes are happening online or in reconfigured classrooms. Wearing a mask is commonplace. And gathering guidelines have changed everything from cheering on your college sports team to casting your vote in the 2020 election.

You, your family, and your friends are certainly all dealing with big changes. CollegeSTEPS is here to help you navigate this ongoing crisis by guiding you toward helpful resources you may need.

Student health coverage

Even if your campus and associated health facilities are closed, your university health coverage may still be active. Your college or university can let you know the status of your coverage benefits.

If you need to access a doctor off campus during the semester or during a break, consider visiting an urgent care facility and using your school health card. The staff can tell you before you receive care if the school health card will apply.

If you’ve had to interrupt or reduce your university attendance and are no longer covered by a student health plan, either your parents’ medical insurance or insurance options through your employer could still be available.

If you’re worried about a copayment or are without any insurance, consider a free or low-cost clinic where you pay based on your income level.

Or, if you are low-income (this includes not working), you could check to see if you qualify for Medicaid. You can also apply for insurance through the Affordable Care Act on the Health Insurance Marketplace, which has options for students. Losing your student health insurance is considered a qualifying life event, which means you can shop for a plan outside of the annual open enrollment period.

Food assistance

The coronavirus crisis is still causing food insecurity for many Americans, and college students are not immune. Feeding America® has an online search feature that can help you find your local food bank. Wells Fargo has supported Feeding America and their vast network of local food banks for over a decade. Other sites such as auntbertha.comampleharvest.org, and (800) 5-HUNGRY can also help you find food banks and meal delivery options in your area. Some food banks are even based on college campuses and dedicated to students, staff, and faculty.

For longer-term needs, consider finding out if you qualify to receive monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds on an EBT card, which you can use to purchase groceries. You can find the state agency that handles this program in your location on the Food Assistance page of usa.gov. The site includes guidance on eligibility and how to apply, plus other helpful information.

If you are a recipient of SNAP or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), talk with your caseworker about how to avoid disruptions in assistance.

Emergency cash grants for college students

As of December 14, 2020, no new federal stimulus bill has been signed into law since the March 2020 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. One of its provisions was that more than $6 billion became immediately available to colleges and universities to provide emergency cash grants to college students.

According to an April 2020 statement from the U.S. Department of Education, colleges and universities would provide cash grants to students “for expenses related to disruptions to their educations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, including things like course materials and technology as well as food, housing, health care, and child care.” To find out if grants are still available and how to apply for one, contact your school’s financial aid office.

Housing aid

Hundreds of thousands of college students have had to rethink housing because of the pandemic, as colleges either closed their dorms or restructured campus living arrangements with lower occupancy to support social distancing recommendations. Many students have returned to their parents’ homes, but that may not be a viable option for some, including for international students. Many colleges have made exemptions so students can stay in residence, but not every student qualifies. Check with your school to see what the options are.

If you are having trouble paying your rent, there could be help in your area. While the federal moratorium on eviction for eligible tenants expired on Dec. 31, 2020, some states have extended eviction moratoriums. For the latest information on what relief may be available, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) page.

If you have nowhere to stay, you can seek assistance from your school or from nonprofit organizations in your community that focus on short- and long-term housing aid.

For example, some LGBTQ+ organizations like True Colors United support youth experiencing homelessness. Visit its COVID-19 Action & Resource Center for more information on the help they offer.

Other emergency financial resources

The government’s suspension of payments and interest accrual on some federal student loans ended on Dec. 31, 2020. Visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid site to keep abreast of updates.

Also be aware that not all student loans qualified for payment suspension under CARES. If you stopped making student loan payments between March and December last year, double-check to make sure your loan qualified for that deferral, and that you are not now behind in payments.

The American Council on Education’s website is also a great resource for updated information on higher education and pandemic-related relief.

Shift to online learning

Many schools are continuing with online learning, though some are conducting in-person classes or offering hybrid options. If you’re taking all or some of your classes remotely, make sure you’re set with Wi-Fi and a working computer.

If you need a computer, check with your college or university about borrowing a laptop, as some are making them available to students in need.

Is internet access an issue? Check with your college or university to see if it can help provide service.

Handling stress

This continues to be an extremely stressful time. If you or someone in your household is feeling overwhelmed, know that resources are available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a full set of recommendations for how to cope with pandemic-related stress. Start by getting exercise and plenty of sleep. Check in with friends and loved ones by phone and video chat. In case of emergencies, be aware of mental health hotlines, either those offered through your university or those available to the public, such as the National Institute of Mental Health’s Crisis Text Hotline — text “Hello” to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor who can direct you to the help you need.

Remember, even though the world still seems uncertain and the situation continues to evolve, we will get through this crisis.

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