In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UCR Economic Crisis Response Team (ECRT) has increased its case-based basic needs support for students who have been impacted by externalities resulting from the pandemic. Formed in January of 2019, the ECRT, according to the UCR Basic Needs website, is a cross-campus collaboration with representatives from Financial Aid, Housing, Case Management, Student Business Services and The Well with the goal to further support students experiencing basic needs insecurity.

“The program was modeled after similar teams at UCLA and UCSC,” stated Megan Harbert, UCR’s Basic Needs Coordinator. “For the first three months that the program existed we helped 32 students and in the last three weeks we have almost doubled our case load due to difficulties that students are facing with COVID-19,” she continued.

The UCR Basic Needs website states that students can request financial, food or housing assistance if experiencing “urgent financial need.” Students who meet eligibility criteria can fill out an application requesting assistance. Eligibility criteria requires students to have “good academic standing,”demonstrate an “urgent financial need” and must have taken out subsidized loans prior to requesting assistance. Once students have filled out the form and attached any supplementary documentation to verify their financial need, requests “will be responded to within 4-5 business days.”

The ECRT faced backlash regarding the eligibility criteria of students needing “good academic standing” to receive assistance. Students have voiced their concerns pertaining to the requirement. Margarita Vizcarra, a second-year GSOE graduate student, sent an email to the ECRT team stating that “unless we tend to the basic needs of students, their academic performance will suffer,” which was posted on the “UCR 4 Cola” Instagram page. In an interview with The Highlander, Harbert stated that “we no longer have good academic standing as an eligibility requirement.”

Grad student Jianan Sun walks away with a bag of groceries from R’Pantry staff Humberto Santiago on March 26, 2020 at UC Riverside. Staff with R’Pantry handed out bags of groceries to students after the campus was closed to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. (UCR/Stan Lim)

After students complete the application requesting basic needs assistance, cases are reviewed every week by the ECRT. “Depending on the needs of the student we develop an individualized support plan,” stated Harbert. She stated that support plans could include a mixture of grocery assistance, emergency housing, grant support, on-campus resources and community referrals.

The ECRT is overseen by The Well, which also oversees the R’Pantry, UCR’s food pantry for students. The ECRT provides financial grants, housing subsidies and grocery assistance to students through funding by the California State General Fund, “allocated … through the 2019-2020 Budget Act to all UC campuses and earmarked specifically to address food and housing insecurities,” stated Devon Sakamoto, director of The WELL.

UCR’s Office of Financial Aid staff represented on the ECRT assist in the reviewal and guidance of student cases, ensuring that students “are receiving all of the aid they are eligible for,” stated Harbert. The UCR Office of Financial Aid staff “help with cost of attendance adjustments, and assist with awarding ECRT grants,” Harbert continued.

“We encourage any student needing support to apply,” stated Harbert. “We will review the case and explore options for how we can help,” she continued.