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Government’s $500 payout not enough, students say

Students Josh Roberts and Taylor Meeks voice their frustration with the $500 payout. Photo by Robert Champagne

By Robert Champagne [1]

BELLEVILLE – A $500 payout for the five weeks of uncertainty during the strike, just isn’t enough for some Loyalist College students.

QNetNews spoke to four Loyalist College students about the plan by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development to cover additional costs incurred by students during the five-week strike by college faculty.

The students said $500 just isn’t enough to cover all the added expenses. The offer isn’t enough to cover some student’s January rent due to delays in the Ontario Student Assistant Plan (OSAP) caused by the extended semester. The fall semester will end on January 19, not December 15, at Loyalist College.

Taylor Meeks, a Protection, Security, and Investigation student, is very troubled.

“There is a lot more expenses that people don’t think of sometimes. Like babysitting and food and groceries. Like $500 might not even cover a month of rent,” said Meeks.

These expenses occurred during the longest strike in Ontario college history. It began on Oct. 15 and lasted until Nov. 21 when Ontario government mandated college faculty back to work. Loyalist College students were out of class for a total of six weeks due to a study break that came the week before the strike.

Just prior to the strike’s conclusion, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development announced the $500 relief fund [2] on Nov. 20 to cover incremental, unexpected costs they incurred, such as additional child care fees, rebooked trains or bus tickets to go home or January rent.

The ministry expects students to be able to apply for money from the Student Strike Relief Fund through their colleges starting this week.

Terra Scott, who is a Community and Justice studies student, said $500 is unfair.

“I will take what I can get,” she said.

Scott, who is also a mother of four, says due to that late start in her placement she will have to spend money she had saved for her upcoming placement, a time when students are placed in career-related jobs outside the college to gain experience as part of the courses.

“So, we were supposed to already be in placement right now. So, what I would use for placement, and to get to and from placement, and to cover things while I was on placement, I will use while I am in class and figure things out while I am on placement,” said Scott.

Many students across the province returned home during the extended strike to see family and save money. Mark Kingston, a Health and Fitness Promotion student, was also critical of the college.

“If they go home for the strike, then they are paying to live somewhere they aren’t staying. Five-hundred dollars for five to six weeks probably doesn’t cover a month living in rez and they are already paying for that,” said Kingston.

At Loyalist, the current price for a two-semester period of residence is $5,850. When this is divided into the eight months students are in school it comes out to just above $730 per month.

Hon. Deb Matthews (Lib-London North Centre), the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, said on Wednesday in Queen’s Park that colleges will be able to give out more than $500 on a case-by-case basis after NDP criticism.

This was something Josh Roberts, another Health and Fitness Promotion student, hoped the government would be more flexible, adding it was taking a middle of the road approach.

“People need a little bit more financial compensation. I guess with the amount of students Ontario wide, $500 was kind of the median, not too much and not too little,” said Roberts.