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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has begun to distribute $9.62 million provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for student emergency relief.

Approximately 90 percent of the initial CARES Act funding is being disbursed directly to about 9,000 eligible students in the form of grant aid to help with financial hardships as a result of COVID-19. The remaining 10 percent will be available to students who apply for and are eligible for emergency financial assistance.

Grant aid will be distributed to UT undergraduate and graduate students with the highest need based on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Eligible students received an email from the university last week and do not have to take any action to receive the funds. Students who opted to receive electronic refunds will receive grants electronically. All other students will receive a check mailed to their address on file.

The remaining 10 percent of the initial funding will provide additional emergency funds through UT’s Emergency Fund Program to students enrolled in the spring 2020 semester. Students who have experienced financial hardship related to COVID-19 are encouraged to request an emergency grant using the Student Emergency Fund application administered by the Office of the Dean of Students.

The university has raised $180,000 in private donations for the Student Emergency Fund. The funds enable the university to support a broader range of students, including international students and others who may be ineligible to receive CARES Act funds. To date, approximately 250 applications for emergency assistance have been approved.

“I encourage all students who are experiencing additional financial hardship because of this difficult semester to apply,” said Shea Kidd Houze, dean of students. “Our Volunteer family has really stepped up in this time of need, and I am so grateful for the donor support for our students.”

The university’s CARES Act disbursement plan aligns with the US Department of Education guidance for how the funds should be distributed. The student share of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funding must be used for student expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19. The Department of Education has stipulated that funds should be distributed to Title IV eligible students. The funding formula allocated 75 percent of the funds based on the university’s federal Pell Grant recipients.

The $9.62 million designated for student emergency relief is about half of the total $19.25 million in CARES Act funding allocated to the university. Administrators are awaiting further guidance from the Department of Education before deciding how best to use remaining funds to support student education.

In addition to financial support provided through CARES Act funding, the university refunded $15.6 million to 21,800 students in March for a portion of fees such as those charged for housing, dining, and parking.

Chancellor Donde Plowman also committed to ensuring that any student worker who wanted to keep their job and continue working remotely in the spring could do so. This commitment served as a way to provide continued financial support to students.

The Office of Information Technology acquired and loaned more than 300 laptops and nearly 600 Wi-Fi hotspots to support students unable to access technology for online learning. A portion of the Student Emergency Fund was used to support that effort.

Additionally, university staff launched an unprecedented initiative to personally call all 29,000 students to offer care, encouragement, and assistance.


Owen Driskill (865-974-2383,

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,