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In the wake of the CZU fires and amid the pandemic, Cabrillo student enrollment was down 18% in the fall, and...

Cabrillo College expects a multimillion-dollar boost from the new federal stimulus, with at least $2 million earmarked for direct emergency grants to its neediest students.

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Some eligibility details remain unclear, but Cabrillo College President Matt Wetstein said at least 1,500 students can expect to receive the support this spring — to the tune of about $500 each.

The grants, he said, would be disbursed by early February if the rollout of the federal relief goes as planned. Funds can be used to cover not just tuition, but also the cost of living expenses such as food, rent and health care.

Called the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, the $900 billion relief bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 28. The package includes $22.7 billion in relief funding for higher education nationwide. That’s a step up from last year, when the CARES Act funded a more modest $14 billion in higher ed relief.

Cabrillo’s full allotment from the new stimulus has yet to be determined, but it might fall in the range of $5 million to $6 million, according to Wetstein’s estimate. That’s a sizable increase from the roughly $4 million the college received under the CARES Act last year.

Across California, community colleges expect to get a combined $1.26 billion out of the new stimulus, according to a Dec. 29 memo from Lizette Navarette, California Community Colleges’ vice chancellor of college finance and facilities planning.

Specifics on how those funds are to be distributed are forthcoming from the U.S. Department of Education. But some constraints are already clear.

For one, colleges must use at least as much of the relief funding in direct emergency relief for students as they did through the CARES Act — translating to an expected $300 million minimum in direct support to students across California community colleges.

For Cabrillo, it sets the floor at about $2 million, the amount the college doled out to more than 3,000 students in the spring and fall of 2020 with CARES Act support. A separate group of more than 300 Cabrillo students received $500 in emergency aid through the college’s foundation that was bankrolled through private donations.

At Cabrillo, Wetstein said the college will decide whether to increase its direct student support based on demand. Other potential uses for any leftover relief funding include renovating the HVAC system in the visual and performing arts center or upgrading the college’s server rooms, he said.

The stimulus’ support for community colleges is a “step in the right direction,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said following Congress’ approval of the aid package earlier in December. But he said more support is needed for the recovery ahead.

Wetstein sees it similarly.

“The first bill wasn’t sufficient,” he said. “The second bill is better — still insufficient.”

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Follow Nick Ibarra on: Twitter. Ibarra has a track record of reporting that has shone light into almost every corner of Santa Cruz County. Raised in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he came to journalism from...