Student workers to get paid for snow week

Tanner Cole

Student workers worrying about making their rent payment can rest easy. WKU will pay student workers for hours scheduled during last week’s snow-induced school closure. 

Supervisors received a few conflicting emails regarding the pay of their staffers. It first appeared that there were no issues in paying students due to a university policy stating that all employees were to work during severe weather closures. 

However, Human Resources Director Tony Glisson, who first sent word that students would be getting paid, soon faced potential problems in funding those payments.  

“The question was ‘could we use federal financial aid money to pay for hours not worked?’” Glisson said. 

The answer is still ‘maybe.’ 

Cindy Burnette, the director of Student Financial Assistance, first raised the funding concern. After looking into the legalities of federal work studies, Burnette concluded that federal funding could only be used if the storm was declared a disaster worthy of an official state of emergency. 

That contingency makes the situation appear simple. Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency in Kentucky last week. However, the federal law wasn’t looking for a declaration from a governor.

“Federal regulations say we can’t use those funds for hours not actually worked unless it’s deemed a disaster by the President of the United States,” Burnette said. 

WKU receives federal funding for student work studies, and it uses those funds along with institutional financial aid money to pay its student workers. Since President Barack Obama has yet to declare the Kentucky storm a state of emergency, WKU has no guarantee of federal support in funding last week’s student pay. 

The caveat changed the debate from whether or not WKU would receive federal funds to whether or not WKU needed to be willing to front the full cost of paying students for last week’s scheduled hours. 

“The university made the decision to allow them to be paid for hours that they would have been scheduled to work that week,” Burnette said.

WKU currently has 1,970 student workers employed. 

For many, such as Los Angeles senior Wilson Solares, losing that week’s pay could have caused financial headaches. Solares works in the Technology Resource Center, and he was still unsure Wednesday afternoon whether he would be getting paid for the missed week.

“We get paid every two weeks, so getting reduced by half, well we would have to reduce our groceries just to pay our rent, phone bills and things like that,” he said.

Now, student workers such as Solares will be getting their check, but it’s still unknown who will be writing it. 

Glisson said he had no idea if Obama would declare a state of emergency, but Glisson said it didn’t really matter. If the President does not, WKU will make adjustments at the end of the fiscal year.

Burnette is doubtful that the declaration will be made, saying it was “probably a stretch.”

WKU won’t know until student time sheets have been filed the exact amount the financial assistance office would lose if forced to pay the full amount, according to Burnette.