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HELP Program FAQ

What is the HELPS Program?
The Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program provide funds to eligible students to support an emergency, without which continued persistence would be at moderate to high risk. For the purpose of the HELPS Program, an emergency is exclusively defined to be an unexpected, one-time expense, associated with the immediate risk to health, life, property, or student’s environment that requires urgent attention to prevent worsening of the situation or further instability of the student’s situation.

Who can apply for the HELPS Program?
To be eligible to receive HELPS program funding, a student’s school must be a Cohort 1 institution participating in Student Freedom Initiative’s program, and the student must meet all the following criteria immediately prior to the disbursement of funds (as determined and confirmed by student’s school):

  1. Academic Year: All academic years are eligible
  2. Major: All majors are eligible
  3. Enrollment Status: Full of Part Time
  4. Academic Status: Undergraduate
  5. Application: Submitted and approved application in accordance with this document
  6. Justification of Need: Provide documentation of financial hardship justifying the need for funds
  7. Video Option: Students may also submit a 1 -2-minute video related to their request for an Emergency Micro Grant.

Can parents or guardians apply for a HELPS Micro Grant for a student?
No, as a parent or guardian you cannot apply on behalf of the student, however, a parent or guardian may advise the student of this funding opportunity for their consideration.

Where can eligible students apply for the HELPS Micro Grant?
Students can apply for the HELPS Program through the Student Application Portal found on Student Freedom Initiative’s dedicated HELPS Program website: https://studentfreedominitiative.org/microgrants/

Are all students eligible?
Yes. All full or part time students who are enrolled at participating schools and who otherwise meet the HELPS Program eligibility criteria can receive funding from Student Freedom Initiative through the HELPS Program.

What are the steps in completing the HELPS Program application?
Students can apply for the HELPS Program through the Student Application Portal (https://studentfreedominitiative.org/microgrants/):

Students will start by providing information about themselves, their institution, and their program of study.

  1. Students will submit a HELPS Program application.
  2. After notification via electronic message that the application has been submitted, the HELPS Program institutional point of contact will verify the student's eligibility to participate.
  3. After verifying student eligibility, the HELPS Program institutional point of contact will confirm supporting information to justify the need has been provided, approve (or disapprove) the request, and electronically transmit funds (if approved) to the student identified account.
  4. Students will receive via electronic message the status (i.e., Approve, Partially Approve (with rationale), or Disapprove (with rationale) of their request of the request.

How long does it take to find out if a student is qualified for funding?
Because the HELPS Program is intended to address emergencies, every effort will be taken to expedite approval of the request. Students can contact the identified HELPS Program institutional point of contact for their institution. The point of contact can be found on Student Freedom Initiative’s website: https://studentfreedominitiative.org/microgrants/

How will students be notified of approval (or disapproval) for the HELPS Program?
Students will receive an electronic message from Student Freedom Initiative when their application is approved by the HELPS Program institutional point of contact.

How will students be notified that they have been approved for funding under the HELPS Program?
Students will receive electronic messages from Student Freedom Initiative throughout the application process, including approval (or disapproval) under the HELPS Program.

I’ve signed up for the HELPS Program, how long until I get my money?
Because the HELPS Program is intended to address emergencies, every effort will be taken to expedite approval of the request. Funding will become available during the school's normal disbursement process at your institutions, in the term in which you have applied. Funding will only be made available to students who have been verified as eligible by your institution.

How much money can I get from the HELPS Program?

  1. The maximum amount available / eligible student per semester is $500, which is a supplement to that which may be provided by the institution.
  2. The maximum amount available / eligible student is $4,000, which is a supplement to that which may be provided by the institution
  3. If funds are not used in each semester, they cannot be rolled into a subsequent semester.

Can I spend the money on anything?
No. You cannot spend the monies received through the HELPS Program on anything. For the purpose of the HELPS Program, an emergency is exclusively defined to be an unexpected, one-time (non- recurring ) expense, associated with the immediate risk to health, life, property, or student’s environment that requires urgent attention to prevent worsening of the situation or further instability of the student’s situation, including the following:

  1. Emergency transportation needs
  2. Information Technology (Hardware)
  3. Information Technology (Software)
  4. Medical treatment / medications / prescription
  5. Safety related
  6. Food
  7. Temporary Housing
  8. Utilities

What is the difference between emergency aid and other forms of financial aid?
While there is no single definition of emergency aid, emergency aid tends to address an immediate need to cover an unexpected expense versus a student simply being generally under resourced or not having planned for predictable expenses. Financial aid for tuition and fees, books and supplies, transportation, personal expenses, and other standard education-related expenses that are included in the institution’s Cost of Attendance (COA) are not generally considered emergency aid.

What if a student has an overaward?
Student Freedom Initiative recommends institutions adhere to existing federal and institutional policies related to administering emergency aid.

Can you tell me more about sharing Personally Identifiable Information (PII)?
Student Freedom Initiative does not share Personally Identifiable Information (PII). While de-identified information is essential to determine the effectiveness and further expansion of the HELPS Program beyond the Cohort 1 institutions, participation in the longitudinal data study will not impact an eligible students’ ability to receive HELPS Program funding. Data from HBCUs and students is not shared without permission per the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with each institution. Institutions have a legal responsibility to keep private student data secure, and to limit sharing of student data only under the specific circumstances permitted by law. When it comes to how and with whom they can share student data, colleges and universities must abide by three federal laws: the Privacy Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, as amended. Administration of your emergency aid program may be impacted by one or more of these laws; it is essential that you understand them and apply them properly to ensure compliance.

Will participating institutions need to install software to review student applications?
No. Institutions will not need to install new software. The HELPS Program application is a cloud-based platform which eliminates the need to purchase and install new software.

Can participating institutions approve emergencies not listed in the policy document?
Yes. As is the case for all emergencies identified by the student, the participating institution has the authority to approve emergencies, even those not explicitly identified within the existing HELPS Program application and policy document.

Who should students contact for status updates on their HELPS Program application?
The Handing Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program grant is a supplement to your institution’s already established emergency funding. Your institution’s Student Affairs Office is the primary source for comprehensive student support services and resources in emergency situations. Please contact your Student Affairs Office for your immediate emergency needs while your HELPS Program application is being processed. Students can also contact the identified HELPS Program institutional point of contact for their institution. The point of contact can be found on Student Freedom Initiative’s website: https://studentfreedominitiative.org/microgrants/

Where should I direct students who want to learn more about the HELPS Program?
Interested students can find information about the HELPS Program at Student Freedom Initiative’s website: https://studentfreedominitiative.org/microgrants/

Can students apply for the HELPS Program during the summer semester?
Maybe. Summer eligibility is based on each institution’s remaining annual allotment and institutional emergency grant policy. Students should contact the identified HELPS Program institutional point of contact for their institution for additional information. The point of contact can be found on Student Freedom Initiative’s website: https://studentfreedominitiative.org/microgrants/