Students receive aid to offset COVID-19 expenses

The fund was created to provide emergency aid to more than 1,000 students. More students have been recommended for approval to receive assistance, but the funds aren’t available.
Written by: Brett Bralley
Media contact: Shannon Thomason

Videography: Laura Gasque and Jeff Myers

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate student Aubrey Mallory was in Orlando, Florida, for a semester interning at Walt Disney World. She was supposed to stay through May. But by mid-March, the job was cut short because of the pandemic, and Mallory was back in Birmingham with no source of income. 

“I didn’t know how I was going to stay on top of my bills,” said Mallory, who graduated in May with an M.A. degree in communication management. “I was afraid I was going to get so far behind that I wasn’t going to be able to catch up.”

Give to the UAB Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund

Mallory, who is from Birmingham, heard about UAB’s Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund. UAB undergraduate and graduate student governments and UAB Student Affairs, bolstered by efforts from UAB community members and donors, created the fund to provide emergency aid to students facing lost wages, a decrease of financial support from parents, relocation expenses and more. Mallory applied for assistance and was approved to receive enough emergency aid to help her cover her bills. She is one of more than 1,000 students who have been helped by the fund, says Jonathan Adams, director of Student Conduct and Outreach for Student Affairs. 

But the fund has been exhausted, Adams says, so UAB Student Affairs has suspended the application process. If more funds become available, UAB Student Affairs will communicate additional information regarding emergency aid options. 

“We’re getting more applications than we have the dollars to cover,” Adams said. “The need is still there. For many people, their situations are continuing. For others, it’s getting worse.” 

Crisis2The need continues

More than 1,700 students have applied for assistance from the UAB Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund, and 1,010 students have been granted assistance to date — receiving an average amount of $250. More students have been recommended for approval to receive assistance but have not been granted any money because the funds are not available, Adams says. 

Students must meet certain criteria, including demonstrating a need directly related to the COVID-19 outbreak, being enrolled in the term in which they are applying, and providing supporting documentation. Though the initial surge of applications has passed, requests are still coming in at a steady pace, Adams says.

“I don’t think the need will go away any time soon,” he said. “In fact, this isn’t going to end once we come back to campus. There are long-term implications for our students.”

While students have run into a number of unexpected expenses because of COVID-19, including emergency transportation and costs related to remote online learning, most are related to living and food expenses and financial loss associated with the crisis, Adams says. 

“We’re seeing that students were laid off from their jobs. A lot were in retail and restaurant positions,” he said. “We’ve also heard from students who used to receive financial support from their families, but their parents were laid off from their jobs or had their hours cut. Income opportunities have decreased, and it is impacting our students.”

Crisis6Aubrey MalloryReceiving support can be a game changer for students, explains Adams. When basic needs are not being met, students lose their sense of security — and that affects their overall success. As the crisis continues, Adams foresees some students’ having to make hard decisions about their futures at UAB. If receiving financial assistance from the university can help retain students during the pandemic, then it is important to sustain the fund, he says. 

“As members of the UAB community, it is our obligation and responsibility to support fellow members of our community,” Adams said. “This is a way we can have a direct impact on our students — to help them feel they belong, to help them meet their personal and academic goals, to help them graduate, and ultimately to help them benefit society as a whole. 

Part of Adams’ job is notifying students when they have been awarded grant money. And the responses he has received have been humbling, he says — from tears of gratitude to elated thanks. When reviewing applications, the goal of Student Affairs had been to meet individual students’ needs while having an impact on the greatest number of people possible.

Student story: Sydney Madrigal

As UAB shifted to remote learning and limited operations, and as businesses throughout Birmingham temporarily closed their doors, student Sydney Madrigal needed to get home to Miami, Florida, so she could be with her family during the crisis. Madrigal, who is completing UAB’s dual O.D./MPH program in the School of Optometry and School of Public Health, applied for help from the Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund and received emergency aid to cover the plane ticket. 

“It really made a difference for me,” said Madrigal, who earned her O.D. in May and will finish her MPH in December. “And it’s made me realize the importance of having a fund like this for students in an emergency. One day, when I have a job and start practicing, I want to give back and support other students in need.” Read more.

Crisis7Sydney Madrigal and Dara RussellStudent story: Dara Russell

Dara Russell has a part-time job, but her hours were drastically cut when the COVID-19 outbreak arrived in Birmingham. The support she received from the Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund helped her bridge the gap — and reinforced what Russell has felt about UAB since she transferred to the university in 2019: She is part of a community. 

“If I hadn’t gotten that grant, there’s no telling what kind of position I would be in,” Russell said. “The idea that somebody would want to help me that much — it’s so incredible. Ever since I started at UAB, I have received nothing but support. I feel I am in a place where people care about me and my well-being. It gave me the ability to focus on other important things, like school. It was such a blessing, and I don’t want anyone to underestimate how much it meant.” Read more