Flood-affected U. Iowa International Students Won't Receive FEMA, State Aid

This story was written by Melissa Brownrigg, The Daily Iowan
While many Iowans will file for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or from the state, Universty of Iowa international students will not join them.

Because international students reside in the United States on a temporary visa, they are not eligible for cash assistance from FEMA.

They are also not qualified for state assistance because Johnson County was deemed a disaster area by the federal government.

Sunday Goshit, graduate student in geography from Nigeria, his wife, and four children were displaced from Hawkeye Court apartments to those at Hawkeye Drive.

Goshit has not seen the extent of damage from the flood, but he hopes it will be minimal.

"Depending on what my need will be, I will apply for assistance from the university," he said. "I wish it was possible to receive aid from FEMA, but because I'm an international student on a visa, I can't. I just hope that international students that really need the aid will be able to receive it."

Goshit said he doesn't blame the university for a government policy.

In all, 260 international students were living in Hawkeye Courts when they were evacuated, said Scott King, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars. More in off-campus housing were affected, but he did not know how many.

FEMA spokeswoman Janne Weschler said people can receive assistance from the agency if they are citizens or qualified aliens, as defined by Immigration and Naturalization Services.

"When Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Title IV of this Act requires that federal public benefits only be provided to United States citizens, non-citizen nationals, and qualified aliens," Weschler said.

This means the individual must have legal status in the United States by being a lawful permanent resident, confined to an asylum, a refugee, withheld deportation, conditional entry, or a pending status.

Those who don't qualify may file on behalf of a dependent as long as the child is a citizen with a Social Security number, Weschler said.

Alternative aid can come from other programs that don't require citizen status, one being the UI flood donations.

Mark Warner, the director of Student Financial Aid, said officials do not know the exact amount of the UI relief fund, but they estimate it at $227,000, and they expect it to reach $300,000.

Usually, the International Students and Scholars Office has an emergency fund, which officials there were planning to use until the UI flood relief fund was opened to all students.

King said the office will use the emergency assistance fund as a backup.

The international-students fund has an estimated $26,000 available, which comes from a $60 fee international students pay each semester and $30 in summer. Sixteen percent of the fee is used for the emergency fund.

No students have applied, but King expects students to begin filing after they "settle back into their apartments and return to their normal lives."

Keri Neblett, the Johnson County crisis-intervention program director, said the Crisis Center of Iowa City has emergency assistance, which is more flexible for people who aren't eligible for government benefits.

Her program is working with United Way of Johnson County, which established a relief fund when the tornado ripped through Iowa City two years ago.

Along with $14,000 unused tornado funds, Johnson County Social Services donated $75,000.

The assistance received depends on the case and needs of the person, Neblett said.

E-mail DI reporter Melissa Brownrigg at:

melissa-brownrigg@uiowa.edu
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