September 11, 2011

Emergency Fund for Employees Depleted After Surge in Requests

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Cornell administrators and Employee Assembly members are sounding the alarm after an unprecedented number of requests for help depleted the Emergency Cornellians Aiding and Responding to Employees Fund, a program that offers faculty and staff in hardship one-time financial assistance.

Since November 2010, CARE has given more than $20,000 to 18 employees who have experienced emergencies such as residential fires, building collapses and uninsured expenses from a severe and acute onset of illness. The fund is supported through donations from Cornell employees and distributed by a committee that reviews applications confidentially.

Beth McKinney, director of the Cornell Wellness Program and chair of the Emergency CARE Fund committee, said CARE was depleted “because so many people were having a rough time last semester and people are having a rough time now.” Additionally, administrators said that outreach efforts increased awareness of the program, triggering the surge in requests.

While acknowledging that the number of CARE recipients and amount of aid provided is limited, University administrators stressed the necessity of the fund for employees in times of crisis.

“I think it’s important for everyone on this campus to recognize that a lot of people in our own community are going through rough times through no fault of their own,” McKinney said. “An infusion of funding can really help them get out of the bind and get back on their feet.”

While Cornell provides many benefits to its employees, including health care coverage, McKinney said that, besides CARE, “there are no funds or loans available from Cornell administration to help [employees] with emergencies.”

Joe Jacoby, a building coordinator at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, was just one of the employees who turned to CARE in a time of need.

After a fire destroyed his house in November, Jacoby applied for assistance from CARE. Forced to spend Thanksgiving weekend in a hotel room, Jacoby was unable to recover anything from his house because of the extensive damage from the smoke and flames.

Jacoby, whose request for funding was approved, said CARE was “extremely helpful” and would benefit anyone who qualified for it.

“The CARE fund came at a time when my daughter and I really needed it. We lost everything we owned and the CARE fund helped with a monetary gift, which was truly appreciated,” he said.

Gary Stewart, director of community relations, said replenishing CARE is a “moral and ethical imperative” for the community.

Stewart said he hopes to restore CARE’s funding by, in part, getting students involved in the Emergency CARE Fund Auction, an annual event held in October that funds much of the program.

He said if students donate items, place bids at the auction and donate directly to the CARE fund, they can “give something back to the staff who take care of them.”

Though the auction has been on a five-year hiatus, Ruth Merle-Doyle, health and wellness specialist of the Cornell Wellness Program, said she hopes this year’s event will “breathe new life into CARE.”

Merle-Doyle said that the University hopes to raise $10,000 at the event, noting that it has raised approximately $6,000 in previous auctions.

While declining to reveal specific figures, McKinney said that CARE committee members are relying on the auction and direct donations to pull the fund out of its “depleted zone.”

CARE has received 10 applications from people in “dire situations” since July and was able to fulfill four of the requests so far. McKinney said that the committee is continuing to receive funding requests.

She said that while it is difficult to turn people away when they do not fit the fund’s eligibility criteria, being able to help those in need is an incredible feeling.

“When we tell someone we’re going to give them money, you wouldn’t believe the voice of relief on the other end of the line,” McKinney said. “There’s a wonderful feeling on their end to know that Cornell really cares enough to do this.”

Stewart concurred, saying that assisting people who have encountered unexpected emergencies is a necessity.

“It’s that simple … it’s not anything beyond being a humanist,” he said.

Original Author: Akane Otani