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Pandemic Made You Want A Better Job? California Has A Grant For You

Students walk on a path at Foothill College.
Students walk the campus of Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. A new grant program will help people who lost their job during the pandemic get additional training and education.
(Courtesy Foothill College)
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The state financial aid commission has a new grant geared toward working adults who lost their jobs during the pandemic. It's part of the commission's effort to make college accessible to all students, not just those coming straight out of high school.

The $2,500 Golden State Education and Training Grant can be used to pay tuition and fees for a qualified training program, like at a community college or adult school, or for the student's books or living expenses while enrolled.

Richard Kastl-Givens, who's studying kinesiology at Long Beach City College, said the money helped him get to class last semester."Gas has been insane, especially since I drive about 30 minutes one way to come to school," he said.

Kastl-Givens, 25, got out of the U.S. Navy in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and was hoping to get into a construction trade, but most apprenticeships had shut down. Instead, he decided to try community college.

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"And I absolutely love it," he said.

Am I Eligible For the Golden State Training and Education Grant?
  • The California Student Aid Commission says you're eligible if you:

    • Lost your job during the pandemic and can't find a job that pays either the same or more than you were earning previously.
    • Weren't already enrolled in college or a training program at the time you lost your job. 
    • Make $42,800 or less as a single person with no kids. For people with other family situations, see the income and assets ceilings for Cal Grant C (they're the same for this grant).
    • Are currently enrolled in a qualified education or training program, which could be, for example, at a community college, adult school, California State University or University of California campus. 
  • Apply here to see if you qualify. You do need to set up an account with the student aid commission. You do not need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The state's financial aid commission hopes people will use the grant as a gateway to try out a new career pathway and to learn about other financial aid they have to offer.

"This is a real opportunity to get their attention and incentivize them to take the first step, which is the hardest," said Marlene Garcia, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission.

The job market has largely recovered since the start of the pandemic — the overall unemployment rate for the Los Angeles area was 4.9% in July, up slightly from 4.4% in July 2019. But Garcia said that doesn't mean people have good jobs.

"The problem with the job market right now is they're pretty decent wages, but they're not necessarily a good career for the long term," she said, "especially if you don't have any skills development."

A Program With Demand

The new grant started as a pilot program earlier this year. Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Community College District said that about half of all L.A. County residents who applied for the grant during the pilot stage were students at the district's nine schools.

"So we know that this grant is much needed," he said at a recent financial aid event held at Los Angeles Southwest College.

UCLA labor economist Till von Wachter said his research on unemployment benefits during the pandemic showed that a surprising number of people in L.A. work in low-wage jobs. "You ask yourself, given California prices, where do they live?" he said.

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Von Wachter said people tend to hold onto their jobs during a recession, and that there now seems to be a lot of pent-up demand for changing jobs. "Especially in an economy that is as unequal as California, thinking about training the unemployed or those who have lower wages is always a very good idea," he said.

Diana McLaughlin, a working mother and student at American River College in Sacramento, used her Golden State Education and Training Grant to pay for books and other school supplies. McLaughlin, 47, lost her job as an accounts receivable specialist during the pandemic. Now she's hoping a B.A. in accounting will help her reach her career dream.

"Instead of being at more like a middle or entry-level,” she said, “it'll help bump me up to where possibly I could be a manager or a controller in the future, because that's what I've always wanted to be is a controller."

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