Will County college presidents talk importance of COVID-19 relief aid

Colleges in Joliet, Romeoville received about $38 million in federal COVID-19 relief from the American Rescue Plan

will county colleges, Joliet Junior College, University of St. Francis, Lewis University, Joliet, Romeoville

The presidents of Joliet Junior College, the University of St. Francis in Joliet and Lewis University in Romeoville spoke last week about the significance of the millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief they’re receiving to supports their missions and students.

U.S. Reps. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, and Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, organized a virtual press conference with the leaders of several colleges and universities in their districts on Friday, including Judy Mitchell, the president of Joliet Junior College, Arvid Johnson, the president of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, and David Livingston, the president of Lewis University in Romeoville.

Foster said last month in a news release that the American Rescue Plan, passed earlier this year, included more than $117 million which went to higher education institutions within his district. Joliet Junior College received about $21.7 million. The University of St. Francis received about $5 million and Lewis University received about $11.3 million.

“The hardships this pandemic has created are wide-reaching, so relief initiatives such as the American Rescue Plan play a pivotal role in our collective recovery and hopefully a return to whatever will pass for normalcy as we go forward,” Johnson said.

About half of the funding each institution receives will be distributed in the form of emergency cash assistance grants for students who are facing hunger, homelessness or other hardship. Johnson said the aid is especially helpful for undocumented and international students at the University of St. Francis during the pandemic.

Livingston said Foster’s and Casten’s votes to pass the American Rescue Plan were “courageous” and the aid is expected to help about 1,400 of his university’s nearly 7,000 students. He added Lewis University used some of the funds to collaborate with the Will County Health Department on its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Some Lewis nursing students volunteered to administer shots and the university even hosted a clinic meant to vaccinate individuals with disabilities.

“It impacts the broader community,” Livingston said of the aid.

Mitchell said JJC has already awarded about $6 million to several of its students since the “need is staggering.” She shared stories of students who were in need, like a nursing student who struggled to pay for gas so she could drive to her clinical instruction while both of her parents were sick with COVID-19. Another student didn’t have access to a home computer so she had to drive close to campus or another public building to get a stronger internet connection to submit her homework from her phone.

“These experiences that you’ve heard today are unfortunately common,” Mitchell said, but added JJC was able to help these students with the use of the federal funds.