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Coronavirus: Saskatchewan post-secondary student unions say more emergency funds needed

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WATCH: While some emergency funding exists, the student unions of major Saskatchewan universities say there's many who don't qualify for federal programs and have little to no income for basic needs.

Student unions for Saskatchewan’s major universities say more emergency supports are needed during the COVID-19 closedown.

“Our main concern is that nobody, especially no student, gets left behind when it comes to relief and when it comes to potential recovery,” said Regan Ratt-Misponas, University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) president.

Ratt-Misponas said that relief can take different forms, some of which the USSU addressed in an open letter to the university on April 4.

READ MORE: B.C. provides $3.5 million in COVID-19 funds for post-secondary students

In it, the USSU asked for measures such as a tuition freeze, waiving late fees and reimbursing any forced withdrawals. Ratt-Misponas said USSU and university administration have a good working relationship, and that the student union will follow-up on their asks.

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In a statement to Global News, the University of Saskatchewan said it “understands the challenging times students are facing during the rapidly-changing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our priority is to ensure the safety of our students, while limiting disruptions to their academic studies and progress as much as reasonably possible. We continue to working closely with the provincial government on a daily basis to ensure students have the supports they need during this exceptional time.”

READ MORE: Federal COVID-19 benefit omits workers with reduced hours, college students: Okanagan MP

Ratt-Misponas said he’s glad to see some assistance, such as the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but knows that doesn’t help many students who don’t make the income requirements.

“Right now, very important that students have supports available to be able to buy things like groceries and to pay rent,” he said.

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URSU providing emergency grocery cards

The University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) said University of Regina students face similar challenges.

URSU Student Advocate Kathryn Boyce said even with the Saskatchewan government’s moratorium on evictions and utility disconnections, many students have little to no income for basic needs.

Boyce said URSU is currently pulling from its emergency bursary fund to buy grocery gift cards for vulnerable students.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: How Edmonton post-secondary institutes are responding to the pandemic

Boyce said she’s now regularly receiving more calls for bursaries a single day than she was previously in an entire month.

URSU has already issued more than $10,000 in gift cards, she said.

“I’m trying to save the scant amount of emergency funding that the student union bursary has left for international students that I know don’t have a source of income whatsoever,” Boyce said.

The University of Regina has its own student emergency fund.

READ MORE: Maritime universities establish emergency funds for students during coronavirus crisis

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In an email, U of R acting director of communications and public relations Paul Dederick said there have been 36 applications, with many more expected in the coming days.

“The university is prepared to supplement the fund further, but our discretionary funds are limited as well,” he said, noting a recent appeal to replenish the fund has raised $30,000 to date.

Dederick added the university has responded to student financial pressures by extending a number of payment deadlines and waiving certain fees.

Administration has also been in regular contact with the provincial government throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“As part of that consultation process, we have held discussions on how the pandemic has adversely affected many students financially, so the government is aware of the situation,” Dederick said.

Opposition says province can fill gaps

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said anyone needing assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic should receive funding.

“We need to invest in people right now. The more we’re able to keep people afloat during this time, the better we will be able to recover once the pandemic is over,” Meili said.

“There are gaps in the federal support that other provinces are filling. Saskatchewan is yet to do so.”

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On April 2, British Columbia announced a one-time $3.5-million emergency fund to support post-secondary students at 25 public institutions in the province.

In an email statement Tuesday, Saskatchewan’s  ministry of advanced education said the province has moved quickly with supports.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Saskatchewan suspends evictions during state of emergency

“To date, that has also included the deferment of student loan payments, self-isolation supports and protections from evictions for students who live off campus,” the statement said.

“We remain in continuous contact with our sector partners and applaud institutions and the public for helping students when possible through this rapidly-changing situation. We know that our institutions are deploying supports for emergency student aid through existing channels and also through public appeals. We are working to support these efforts.”

The federal government is expected to address student-specific supports sometime this week.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.