The Rice Emergency Student Disaster Assistance program is offering disaster financial assistance and reimbursements for flooded cars to some students affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Only off-campus students who are already receiving financial aid can apply for the disaster financial assistance, which includes up to $1,500 for costs not covered by insurance, according to Bradley Fralic, associate vice president of and university controller of Rice. The money comes from donations to the Rice Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which was established to support employees and students impacted by the hurricane as well as fund outreach efforts.
“We focused the assistance on meeting immediate needs not covered by insurance primarily because there’s only so many resources and we decided to focus on those who had the greatest need,” Fralic said. “Rather than get invasive and ask for all kinds of personal information, we decided to focus on those who had some type of need based aid as the best way to make that determination.”
McMurtry College junior Tram Nguyen said she applied to receive financial assistance after her apartment flooded with two feet of water, causing her to lose every piece of furniture in her apartment.
“For me, as a low-income student, it’s a big deal to know exactly how money is coming in, so you can plan your whole entire semester and year around that,” Nguyen said. “Yes, there’s emergency funds, but re-buying furniture completely is a big sum, really for any college student. We all know Rice is already hard and to have that added burden of not knowing where this money is coming from, it affects your mindset academically.”
Wiess College sophomore Sam Robedee said he applied to receive disaster financial assistance but found he was ineligible because he does not receive need-based aid, although he does receive tuition for eight semesters because he has a parent who is a staff member at Rice.
Robedee met with Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson on Tuesday and said he will receive $500 of assistance through the Dean’s office, which he will use to pay apartment fees his landlord charged him even after he said his off-campus apartment became uninhabitable due to mold.
“The experience has been long and tiring, but good and helpful,” Robedee said. “I’m glad Rice is here to help.”
The program will also provide reimbursements to students who sustained damages to automobiles with Rice parking permits parked on campus during the hurricane while they were out of town on approved Rice travel. Auto reimbursements are up to $500 for either the payment of insurance deductibles or completed repairs, depending on which is lower, according to an email sent to all students on Sept. 14 announcing the financial assistance program.
Before the storm, Rice Crisis Management announced that students with parking permits could park their cars in the Entrance 3 Garage or the BRC Garage to prevent their vehicles from flooding. Because students who were out of town for Rice-related activities did not have the opportunity to move their cars to one of the garages, Fralic said the Rice administration thought it was the right thing to do to reimburse these students.
Football player Parker Smith said he received $500 for his flooded car, which he left parked in Greenbriar Lot while in Australia for Rice’s game against Stanford. Smith, an accounting graduate student, said he and other members of the team provided insurance information to Assistant Athletic Director Rick Mello who handled the rest of the process.
“I think we all want more considering we were all stuck in Australia, but Rice has no obligation to pay for us so we are just blessed to be receiving anything at all,” Smith, a Hanszen College senior, said.
Fralic said 25 students have qualified to receive either financial disaster assistance or the automobile assistance so far.
Off-campus students who would like assistance must contact Emily Villarreal at the Controller’s Office for an appointment, according to the email. An application form was attached which asks students to describe the damages to their personal residence and belongings and expenses incurred.
Nguyen recently applied for assistance and said the process was straightforward.
“Overall, it was an easy process,” Nguyen said. “They made it very accessible. Maybe within a week I’ll get a reply.”
Fralic said that while he is just one of many people involved in the process, meeting with students affected by Harvey has been both rewarding and humbling.
“For me personally, it’s hard to talk about actually,” Fralic said. “When you see the pictures and they tell you their stories of all that they’ve lost, that’s the emotional part. But it is very encouraging when you’re able to help them in some small way and you see the relief on their face and in their voice.”
Nguyen said with this program Rice is trying to eliminate some financial barriers.
“This is more than just making sure that we can go events and feel included,” Nguyen said. “This is so the financial aid students have a place to stay, have things to meet their basic everyday needs. Rice can’t solve every problem with financial inequality but this is definitely a great step in the right direction.”
This article has been updated to say Robedee's father is a staff member and Robedee receives tuition for eight semesters.