Student relief fund not enough: student associations

Ontario student associations are calling for $500 for every student in the province

The Ontario government is facing criticism from college student associations across the province over their handling of the student relief funds set up to assist students who incurred costs due to the college faculty strike.

In a joint statement, student associations from George Brown, Niagara, Fanshawe, Sheridan, Georgian, St. Lawrence, Seneca and St. Clair Colleges have called on the government to provide additional funding to ensure that all full-time students get $500.

“I would just like to see a little bit more justice done for students and we’d just like to see the government actually recognize it in the hardship fund and pay students back,” said Mercedes Burrowes, the director of campus life at the Student Association of George Brown College (GBC), which funds The Dialog

The fund is being criticized as being too restrictive in what can be claimed. Lost wages due to not being able to work over the planned holiday break is a big issue, but not covered by the fund. 

Kristie Dusa, an educational support student at St. Clair College in Windsor, said as a server the holiday period is one of her busiest and estimates that she will lose up to $2,000 by not being able to work during it.

She said that it’s going to mean a “minimal, if any, Christmas” for her three kids who she will only be able to spend a week with due to the break being shortened.   

As previously reported in The Dialog, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development said that the government will not be investing any new money into the fund and that they expect colleges to pay for it from savings from the strike.

“A key principle is that no student should be turned away because of insufficient funds,” said Tanya Blazina, a spokesperson for the ministry in an email. “If claims exceed net savings, colleges should consider drawing on other sources of funding for student hardship to supplement the net savings.”

There are about 220,000 full-time students in the Ontario College system. If each student claimed the maximum of $500 it would cost $110 million. The ministry said that the exact amount of savings hasn’t been determined, but it is expected to be more than the previous strike in 2006, when $5 million was saved. If $5 million is available, that would leave just enough for $23 per student. 

Colin Simpson, dean of continuous learning at George Brown, previously told The Dialog that the college hadn’t saved much money due to the strike, but that they would find the money. 

Besma Soliman, a human resources management student at GBC, said that she’s not able to afford to fly home to London this year as the cost of tickets on Dec. 22 is $1,600-$1,800. But because she didn’t buy a ticket during the strike she doesn’t qualify for help with the increased cost.

“Honestly, $500 doesn’t cover it,” said Soliman. “But if they were to say, ‘Okay, that is something we would issue to all of our full-time students who have been impacted by the strike,’ then I think that would be a really good starting point honestly, and I think a lot of people would be satisfied with that.”

Nicolas Jauvin-O’Rurke, a GBC business-human resources student, is out $200 after having to change his flight home to Moonbeam in northern Ontario. He filed a claim for that but estimates he spent $1,200 on rent at GBC’s student residence and $300 on food during the five weeks of the strike. 

“I don’t think it should be up to an application process where some people are left out,” he said “I think everyone should be covered.” 

Full-time GBC students can apply for one of two funds, the Student Strike Relief Fund, or the Travel Reimbursement Fund. Both can be applied through the STU-View portal. 

Eligible expenses for the student relief fund include additional travel costs, living expenses, and child-care costs. The deadline to apply to the fund is April 27, 2018.

For the travel reimbursement fund, students can claim money for increased cost of flight change fees, increased flight costs, or cancellations. The deadline to apply is Jan. 22, 2018.

A clause in the application form for the student relief fund at GBC reads that by accepting money from the fund students “will not seek payment for those same expenses in any other forum or proceeding.” 

A class-action lawsuit by college students affected by the strike was announced in mid-November and is being litigated by Charney Lawyers. The class-action lawsuit’s website cautions that students who get money from the student relief fund will not be able to claim money from the lawsuit if it is successful. 

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Student relief fund not enough: student associations