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

A student works at her computer while at home.

A guide for students about financial resources that can help 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.


Both the coronavirus pandemic and the responses to it, including stay-at-home orders and courses taken online instead of in person, have turned everyone’s lives upside down. You, your family, and your friends might all be dealing with big changes. CollegeSTEPS is here to help you navigate this crisis by guiding you toward helpful resources you may need.

Student health coverage

Your campus and associated health facilities may be closed, but this doesn’t mean your university health coverage is no longer active. If you need to access a doctor off campus, consider visiting an urgent care clinic and using your school health card. If you are worried about a co-payment, consider a free or low-cost clinic where you pay based on your income level.

If you have had to interrupt or reduce your university attendance and are no longer covered by a student health plan, your parents’ medical insurance, or your employer’s insurance, options could still be available. For example, if you are low-income (this includes not working), find out if you qualify for Medicaid. Students ineligible for Medicaid or undocumented can go to a health center and access care with sliding-scale fees.1 Another possibility is to apply for insurance through the Affordable Care Act on the Health Insurance Marketplace, which has options for students. Losing your student health insurance means you can shop for a plan outside of the annual open enrollment period.

Food assistance  

The coronavirus crisis has caused food insecurity for many Americans, and college students are not immune. If you need help, Feeding America® has a search feature that can help you locate 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.com, ampleharvest.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 long-term food support, consider applying for food stamps through the state agency that handles that emergency program in your location. Not sure how? You can find that and other helpful information on the Food Assistance page of usa.gov.

Emergency cash grants for college students

A major provision of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act is more than $6 billion of funding in direct emergency cash grants to college students.1 According to a statement from the U.S. Department of Education, colleges and universities will 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 how to apply for a grant, contact your school’s financial aid office.

Housing aid

Hundreds of thousands of college students have been displaced from their on-campus residences because of the coronavirus outbreak. Many have returned to their parents’ homes, but that may not be a viable option for some, including international students. Many colleges have made exemptions so students can stay in residence, but not every student qualifies.

If you are having trouble paying your rent, there could be help in your area. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a 60-day statewide moratorium2 on evicting renters affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and similar orders are complete or pending for other parts of the country. For the latest information, 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 through short- and long-term housing resources near you. Wells Fargo supports organizations like True Colors United that helps support youth experiencing homeless. Visit their Covid-19 Action & Resource Center for help during these times.

Other emergency financial resources

The coronavirus outbreak may be causing financial upheaval in your life in several ways. Fortunately, according to the U.S. Department of Education, government aid includes even more help for students.

Shift to online learning

Most college students can choose to finish spring 2020 coursework online. You’ll need Wi-Fi and a working computer for this.

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. Schools may have access to emergency funds to help students cover the cost. If not, companies like Best Buy, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft offer a range of student discounts.

If internet access is an issue, check with your college or university to see if it can help provide service. And keep in mind that, in the face of the pandemic, some companies are offering 60 days of free Wi-Fi, including Comcast and AT&T. Verizon has announced a moratorium on late fees and disconnections. Cox and Sprint have also announced some discounts and special deals.

And the technology team at your university or college should still be available to help with problems logging on, tech support, and email.

Handling stress

This is 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 (CDC) has a full set of recommendations for how to cope with the quarantine. 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 seems uncertain now, we will get through this crisis.

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