Hurricane victim relief efforts discussed at University’s task force meeting

Joshua Ceballos/Assistant News Director

Out-of-state tuition fee waivers and a hurricane relief fund for students in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean who were impacted by hurricane Irma and Maria was discussed during the Interdisciplinary Task Force meeting on Thursday, Oct. 12.

The IDTF team was created to tackle issues in the university community regarding major disasters.

The task force is comprised of representatives from a variety of departments ranging from Student Affairs to the Emergency Operations Department.

Ruben D. Almaguer, chair of the IDTF and assistant vice president of Disasters Management, said that FIU housed students besides those from Monroe County, as well as patients, individuals from the Virgin Islands, students with special needs, and housing students.

But FIU, Almaguer said, needs to be better prepared to house its own students and should expand its capacity to meet the needs of local students.

“If we’re gonna shelter all these people, how are we not sheltering our own families and our own students,” Almaguer said. “Miami-Dade County is at a shelter deficit of 9,200 positions for general population.”

The conversation then turned to Puerto Rico, and the University’s efforts to assist Puerto Rican students and displaced residents.

James Knapp,  executive director of strategic partnerships for the Office of Engagement and liaison to Puerto Rico, said that communication with UPR to assist them in fixing their infrastructure has become stagnant, and that as of now, UPR says that they need no help. Knapp said that because of this, attention needs to be directed at individuals who want FIU’s help.

Elizabeth Bejar, VP of Academic Affairs, said that so far 192 students from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean have taken advantage of the non-degree transient application posted by FIU, 154 of whom are undergraduates and 38 are graduate students.

Bejar said that the 154 undergraduates have been notified about the upcoming mini terms available to them on Monday, Oct. 16 and Friday, Dec. 15, though many have opted not to partake in the first one.

“Many of them have a lot on their plates right now and are opting to wait until January or December because things are in turmoil and changing on a daily basis,” said Bejar.

Transient students qualify for an out-of-state tuition fee waiver, which will set the cost of tuition at $200 per credit, and since the mini terms will only allow students to take 4 credits the total fee will be $800, according to Bejar.

Besides the mini-terms and fee waivers, the task force is interested in providing other kinds of relief and aid to affected students.

The FIU Foundation currently has $12,690 in a response and recovery fund, according to Linda Curiel-Menage, executive director in the foundation.

Curiel-Menage said that this money has yet to be disbursed in any way, and Almaguer expressed the importance of using this money as soon as possible in relief efforts rather than holding them in the account.

IDTF is also looking into different ways of using the account’s recovery fund for students. Among options that were discussed was the possibility of offering a scholarship to cover books for transient students, paying for housing, and giving those students dining dollars directly on their One Cards.

As for relief efforts going out of the University, Almaguer said it was important to communicate effectively with students that FIU is not a drop-off point for donations to be sent out to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Information about how students can donate and send aid to other countries will be disbursed to the community on and other channels, according to the group.

For students who need aid, FIU’s food pantry is open to students in DM 166 on the Modesto Maidique campus and WUC 307 at the Biscayne Bay campus. MMC’s food pantry now also has extended hours, four days a week, according to the representative from Student Affairs.

Knapp also said he has contacted the company Airbnb to secure housing for displaced students, and said that the company would be providing the funds for that should the University choose to use them, though that has yet to be decided.

The IDTF will be sending out an email to let students know about the efforts they are making towards assisting those affected by the recent disasters, and this group, Almaguer said, will continue to frequently meet to discuss how to best help FIU.

Students who have additional questions can email or call 305-348-3481.


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