SSMU Update on COVID-19

SSMU Update on COVID-19

Dear McGill students,

With classes ending, we are writing to present you with an update regarding COVID-19 and its impact on our members. We are trying to space these communications out as we are conscious that you are all still being bombarded with emails. We will try to cover here what has not already been touched on through McGill’s communications, which can otherwise be accessed here.

Financial aid

Many are now wondering how they will be able to pay for basic necessities and expenses such as tuition. Furthermore, students may have had summer jobs or contract renewals cancelled due to COVID-19, both on and off-campus. While we are still working to help McGill understand the Quebec government’s April 3rd directives to “honour all contracts”, some job loss for on-campus workers has already been reported. On our end, the SSMU has committed to leading by example and will not be laying off any workers employed by us. The SSMU is focused on advocating for on-campus workers during this period, and we encourage you to email external@ssmu.ca or your campus union if your supervisor is attempting not to honour your work contract.

We would like to remind all students of Canada-wide relief programs, notably Employment Insurance (EI) and the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). If you have worked over 700 hours in the last 12 months, whether or not you can demonstrate that your job loss is due to COVID-19, you are eligible for EI. When applying for EI, your application will also be submitted to the new CERB program.

You are currently eligible for CERB’s current if:

  • you have earned more than $5000 in the past year,
  • you have become unemployed due to COVID-19.

In this case, you may apply to CERB for four weeks at a time, during which you will receive $500 each week. For your first application, you are eligible if:

  • you will receive (or have received) no income for at least 14 days straight following a COVID-19 related job loss.

If your COVID-related unemployment continues past the four-week period, you may apply for another four-week period. At present, the program currently requires that you:

  • must be receiving absolutely no income during each subsequent four-week period for which you are applying.

However, the Government of Canada has recently announced the following change: those who, due to reduced working hours, will be making less than $1000 per month, will soon also be permitted to apply to CERB.

If you do not qualify for either CERB or EI, other temporary funding options may still apply to you. For students who receive loans through Quebec’s Aide financière aux études (AFE), your loan repayment schedule has been postponed for 6 months. During this time, any interest on loans you have amassed will be paid by the Quebec government, though you may continue to pay down the loan if you choose to do so.

While the Quebec government has not made an official announcement to this effect, we are receiving indication that you may be able to receive loans & bursaries during a summer semester even if you are not paying tuition for summer classes. The Quebec government has indicated that loss of income due to COVID-19 may be considered as a “grave and exceptional situation”, allowing you to fill out the form located here. You must already be eligible for AFE before applying – this means you fit the Winter 2020 criteria for AFE and already be receiving loans and/or bursaries. Details for submitting the form are outlined here. If students have difficulty applying for aid in this way, please email external@ssmu.ca and we will work with our provincial partners to support you through the process.

For American students, the Federal Student Aid Office announced at the end of March that they would be waiving the requirement that loans & bursaries be used for face-to-face curriculum. This means your US student loans will not be cancelled due to changes in delivery. We wish to extend our thanks to the Scholarship and Student Aid Office for their work with the United States government in achieving this exemption.

McGill is itself still providing financial aid to students. Pre-existing student aid, as well as donations dedicated for COVID-19 relief, are being administered through the Scholarships and Student Aid Office for undergraduate, professional, and graduate studies programs. Applications are screened on the basis of demonstrated financial need and will include cost-of-living expenses as well as additional expenses incurred due to COVID-19, such as non-refundable travel costs.

For students with more particular needs, a Montreal Student Initiative for COVID-19 Response and Relief has been set up for tasks such as grocery pick-up and other material support, virtual care and companionship, and other needs as they arise.

Final exams

While final exams have already begun, students should be aware of the following:

The Office for Students with Disability should already be in touch with those registered in order to provide alternative accommodations for exams. If this has not occurred, please email studentrights@ssmu.ca and we can help ensure your rights are being upheld.

McGill has failed to provide a suggested alternative for standard written exams. Course instructors will have full responsibility for administering final exams as they see fit, with support when requested from Teaching & Learning Services. As such, please understand that a large amount of labour has been shifted onto professors and their teaching assistants as they work incredibly hard to set up these alternative assessments, working additional (often unpaid) hours and taking on responsibilities outside of their agreed-upon contract, such as preparing multiple versions of exams and finding ways to administer examinations, often for hundreds of students at a time. We request that students be conscious of the additional work that goes into making sure academic integrity is upheld during exams; breaches of this will shift even more unpaid labour onto workers who are now forced to find new, more time-consuming ways of monitoring for similar answers and/or similarities between answers and online content.

Finally, while the administration has requested that instructors be lenient regarding attendance, we have not received definitive confirmation that delays in submitting evaluations will be forgiven without a medical note. If you are experiencing difficulties with this or other academic issues due to the COVID-19 situation, please email studentrights@ssmu.ca so that we can ensure that your student rights are being respected.

Coming months

It is incredible to see how strong of a community exists at McGill. It sometimes shows itself only in times of crisis, but the high degree of care and the ability of McGillians to look out for one another truly is all around us. Please continue to look out for each other, and reach out if you see someone struggling or if you need support. With that in mind, please keep in mind the following:

The migration of Fall 2020 courses to an online format remains a possibility. We are all waiting for the Quebec Government’s May 4th directives for a better understanding of the likelihood of in-person education in the Fall. Students should be aware of this possibility, but the SSMU is by no means suggesting that this is a guarantee. If this affects your ability to complete strictly in-person courses or otherwise jeopardizes your ability to learn comfortably, please reach out to an academic advisor or the Office of the Dean of Students to examine your options. If courses are moved online during the Fall semester, the SSMU will be advocating for re-evaluations of existing tuition rates and the increase of course registration caps for larger classes.

As mentioned above, job precarity at McGill has increased markedly since the start of the pandemic. McGill is cancelling jobs, cutting hours where they can, and systematically advising departments to replace their TA positions with similar but more precarious positions such as “graders”, “demonstrators”, and “notetakers”. These positions are not unionized, and as such are much more vulnerable to the types of abuses being experienced by McGill workers. For the same work, students will be receiving a significantly lower pay, all while undercutting another student who may need the TAship to pay for large expenses or to further their research prospects. We want everyone to work if they are willing, but we should collectively make sure everyone’s work environment is secure and that workers’ rights are respected. It has become clear now more than ever that protections for workers, secured by campus unions, are necessary when seeking employment at McGill. If you are working in one of these non-unionized positions, we encourage you to join AGSEM during their Unionization Drive.

Thank you all for your continued patience and perseverance, and please reach out to any of us if you have COVID-related needs that have not been addressed by us or the University. When students continue to inform us of existing gaps, we are better able to bring these concerns to the relevant decision-making bodies.

Madeline Wilson / Vice-President (University Affairs) | ua@ssmu.ca
Adam Gwiazda-Amsel / Vice-President (External Affairs) | external@ssmu.ca
Bryan Buraga / President | president@ssmu.ca
Sam Haward / Vice-President (Finance) | finance@ssmu.ca
Sanchi Bhalla / Vice-President (Internal) | internal@ssmu.ca
Billy Kawasaki / Vice-President (Student Life) | studentlife@ssmu.ca

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