New Brunswick

Post-secondary students worried about making rent, paying for groceries

Post-secondary students studying in New Brunswick feel left behind when it comes to financial support from the provincial and federal government.

Students thankful for government help, but say it’s not enough

At a time when students would normally be stressed about passing exams, they're facing additional financial stress because of COVID-19. (Pormezz/Shutterstock)

Post-secondary students studying in New Brunswick are feeling left behind by the financial support programs from the provincial and federal government. 

The provincial government announced a financial aid package for students last week, which included a one-time offer of $750 for eligible students. Students must apply to their post-secondary institution to receive the money. 

To qualify, students must be directly impacted by COVID-19, cannot have access to student loans, employment insurance, personal savings, other COVID-19 financial assistance and must not qualify for the $900 emergency relief fund distributed by the province.

Emelyana Titarenko, chair of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, said her organization was initially pleased with the government's one-time $750 aid for post secondary students. 

"Reading more into the eligibility of it, I do really see it as a little bit of a cop-out," said Titarenko, who's also Mount Allison's Students' Union president. 

Titarenko said many of the students she's spoken to are shocked and confused by the restrictions on who can apply for the government money. 

"Students who apply for student loans are usually the ones who actually do struggle financially, and they need that assistance … and now this criteria is essentially saying that they're not going to be able to access it."

Emelyana Titarenko is president of Mount Allison's Students' Union and chair of the New Brunswick Student Alliance. (Photo: Mount Allison Students' Union )

Students relying on loans have already paid their tuition and have used up the remaining money to buy groceries and pay for rent. Since it's nearing the end of the term, many have run out of funds, Titarenko said. 

While some students could apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Titarenko said some of its requirements leave out students who rely solely on savings from a summer job to pay their rent, groceries and tuition during the school year. She would like to see the federal government remove the requirement that applicants must have earned $5,000 in the last year to receive financial support.

The Mount Allison Students' Union typically distributes 15 food bags per month to students in need at a reduced price of $15. In the last month, Titarenko said MASU has delivered 71 bags. 

"To see there's 71 students who are applying for this produce means that the levels of food security are definitely starting to get high."

Titarenko is in her fifth year studying psychology, with a minor in biology and political science. 

Titarenko is receiving an honorarium as the student union president, but she's beginning to worry about how she'll afford rent and groceries once she's finished school.

Brandon Steele is a fifth-year political science student at Mount Allison University. (Submitted by Brandon Steele)

Brandon Steele, a fifth year student majoring in political science at Mount A, is thankful the government is bringing in a benefit to help New Brunswick students who don't qualify for CERB, but he doesn't think $750 is enough. 

"I paid about $450 a month for rent," said Steele, who was recently on an exchange in France and had to return home because of the pandemic. He's currently living with his parents, but has lived alone in previous years. 

"So $750 that's good for one month's rent. That's good for a few weeks of groceries. But beyond that, it's not going to help a ton of students."

Steele doesn't qualify for CERB or New Brunswick's assistance program.

Steele would like to see the provincial government implement the $750 funding monthly or biweekly, rather than a one-time offer. He'd also like to see the federal government eliminate some of the barriers that prevent students from applying. 

"As long as there's an eligibility gap, people are going to fall through the cracks, and that includes students."

Steele is sympathetic to the government and thankful that it managed to push aid through on such a tight timeline, but he and other students remain concerned. 

"A lot of us are being left out."

Drew Hudson just began studying at St. Thomas University in Fredericton this year. (Submitted by Drew Hudson)

Drew Hudson, a first year student at St. Thomas University majoring in English, had mixed feelings about the provincial government's announcement.

Hudson's grateful the government announced aid for students, but doesn't think it's enough.

Part of going to school and getting an education is learning how to live on your own and budget your money, Hudson said. 

It's impossible to do that when you have no money to budget, however. 

"It's really disheartening when you can't live on your own like you wanted to," Hudson said. 

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