Since its launch almost three weeks ago, the UVA Emergency Assistance Fund has provided assistance to more than 600 furloughed contract workers and University of Virginia employees facing unexpected costs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A team of about 50 UVA employees, including more than a dozen volunteers, have received and processed the hundreds of requests from fellow employees and workers for 11 UVA contractors, as well as University-associated organizations.
The majority of the applications have come from UVA employees, followed closely by contract workers, with the largest share of those being employees of Aramark, the University’s primary food service provider. The amount provided for most requests has ranged between $1,000 and $1,200.
The fund, which was launched with $2 million of one-time funds previously set aside for community initiatives and staff support, was intended as a way to bridge the gap for those impacted after it was determined that state and federal benefits would not flow fast enough to prevent significant financial hardship.
“People really need help right now,” said Michele Monger, a University Human Resources administrative assistant who has been volunteering to assist with requests. “Some of these people have to make sure their children are fed, because a lot of kids were getting fed at school.”
Monger, along with many others working on the intake, review and payment teams from across the University’s departments of Human Resources and Finance, worked quickly to learn new skills and software to get the program up and running to support others. She said the experience has been rewarding, both personally and professionally.
“It really gives you perspective on what’s happening in your own life,” Monger said, adding that she has been struck by the selflessness of those requesting assistance, noting that many ask for very small amounts to ensure that others in need get their share. In one case, she said, someone had to ask for help with their own expenses after purchasing fabric and supplies to make masks to hand out to others.
“These are the stories that really touch me,” she said. “They’re being generous and thinking of other people while they’re going through these hard times, too.”
As the EAF continues to provide assistance in the weeks ahead, the fund is also being supported by faculty members, employees, alumni, students, parents and friends of the University who are able to contribute.
“Over the last several weeks, we have seen an outpouring of support from members and friends of the University community looking to provide assistance in any way possible,” said Mark Luellen, UVA’s vice president for advancement. “The first wave of that support was for our students, and hundreds of alumni and friends made commitments to our Student Life and Leadership Fund for those facing financial hardships. Now, given the economic impact of this prolonged crisis on contract workers and employees, we are hearing from many people looking to help them though these difficult times.”
In addition, through the UVA Cares Project the University is also offering assistance with completing applications for state and federal unemployment benefits to expedite the receipt of those funds.
John Kosky, an assistant vice president in the Department of Human Resources, led the effort to get the Emergency Assistance Fund process running and said overall response has been positive.
“The implementation of the fund and availability of these resources proved to be timely, providing meaningful relief to families weathering the impact of COVID-19,” he said. “The fund has been in place for about three weeks and we are pleased to see employees contributing to the fund, which will be necessary to continue to provide relief and aid over the coming months.”
“Organizing and executing this program has been an extraordinary team effort, requiring countless hours of hard work,” Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jennifer “J.J.” Wagner Davis said. “I’m so thankful for the level of dedication and professionalism of all involved and could not be prouder of this team.”
Gabriela Garcia Largen, director of UVA’s Human Resources Solution Center, has been leading the fund’s intake team and said all of those involved with the program are constantly working to make the process as simple and efficient as possible for those in need.
Most applicants will receive an answer in less than 48 hours, she said, and payment within a week. Those payments can be received as a direct deposit or a check can be issued. Largen herself is providing direct support for Spanish-speaking applicants and created an application form in Spanish to make things easier.
“It’s a really good feeling to be able to help people who otherwise would not have access to anything like this,” she said. “I think this has been very eye-opening for the whole team. Some of the stories are really truly heart-wrenching and it’s nice to come together to try and provide support and to help in any way we can. I think it’s a demonstration of working together and collaborating for the greater good.”