Southwestern Ontario college students shut out of hardship fund

QUEEN’S PARK—In question period on Thursday, NDP Education critic Peggy Sattler and Windsor West NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky said that the Wynne government has let down college students who lost wages when their work-study program was impacted by the strike at Ontario colleges.

Southwestern Ontario students enrolled in work-study programs were disappointed to learn that they are not eligible to access the Student Hardship Fund to supplement lost wages. Gretzky spoke about the situation facing Angelica Haggert, a St. Clair College student who lost $800 dollars in wages after the five week strike.

“My constituent Angelica, a student at St. Clair College, emailed the Minister about this very issue, and would really appreciate some answers,” said Gretzky. “Angelica was part of a work-study program—she specifically chose work-study because these programs are very accommodating for students. But when she went to her financial aid office to receive compensation for lost wages under the hardship fund, she was denied. When anyone, student or otherwise, is hired for a job, there is an expectation that in the event of a layoff, the employee will be compensated.

“Angelica was actually quoted in a CBC article as saying ‘I feel like I’ve been forgotten by the Ministry of Education’.”

“Will the Minister respond to Angelica’s email immediately? And what plan does this government have to make sure that Angelica, and hundreds of other students, will get the compensation they deserve?” asked Gretzky.

While the Wynne government said college students can access up to $500 in financial compensation through the Student Hardship Fund, or a tuition refund should they withdraw from the semester, NDP Education critic Peggy Sattler said that uncertainty surrounding the eligibility requirements for these initiatives is causing chaos for families throughout Ontario.

“With the December 5 deadline for college tuition refunds fast approaching, the chaos and confusion continues,” said Sattler. “Faculty concerned about students achieving required competencies in a shortened semester are being suspended. Students who want a fresh start and their tuition refunded risk losing their program entirely.  Students are being forced to jump through impossible hoops to access the hardship fund. 

College Student Alliance said this week: ‘We’ve been in contact with the [government] daily, shooting questions almost non-stop because there is so much left unanswered’.

“Will the Minister take responsibility and clarify directives to colleges, so that students can make informed decisions about their futures?” asked Sattler.