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Alcorn to issue refunds and credits to students unable to return to campus

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(Photo source: Alcorn State University)

From Alcorn State University:

With the transition to virtual and remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students were faced with an inability to return to campus for the remainder of the spring semester. As you know, we have received a number of questions about refunds for certain fees paid to the university for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we worked with our sister institutions, system, and state leaders to respond with clarity and equity to this unprecedented challenge. Throughout this process, our priority has been to make sure everyone affected is safe and made as whole as possible.

I am pleased to report that in support of our students and in alignment with guidance recently received from IHL, Alcorn State University will issue prorated refunds and credits to eligible students for housing, meals and parking charges for the Spring 2020 Semester. Below is general information on how the University intends to implement refunds and credits. All transactions (housing, meals and parking refunds/credits) will be processed no later than May 29, 2020. Students who remained on campus will not be eligible for refunds or credits.

HOUSING

Students who did not remain on campus to live in university residence halls after March 16, 2020 will receive a pro-rated refund of their Spring 2020 housing agreement. Students who withdrew from the university before March 16, 2020, will not be issued a refund. Additionally, students whose full housing was paid from institutional scholarships, ASU Foundation scholarships, or Alcorn Athletics will not receive a refund.

MEALS

Students enrolled in meal plans though Sodexo, our dining services partner, will have the remainder of their meal plans rolled over into Fall 2020 as a credit unless the student is graduating, in which case, the student will receive a pro-rated refund check or direct deposit on the unused portion of their plan, based on the last day of use. Flex dollar balances will be transferred to the Fall 2020 semester as well.

PARKING

The Parking Office will provide pro-rated credits to all commuter students and students who did not remain on campus to live in university residence halls after March 16, 2020. Graduating seniors will receive a refund for parking.

Please note that all refunds will be applied to students’ accounts at the university and will first apply to any current outstanding charges or balances owed. Any unused balance will be distributed to students via direct deposit or refund check. All remaining payments due on payment plans for housing, meals, and parking will be prorated and late payments and financing charges will be waived through the end of the semester.

Students utilizing federal funds to pay for any portion of their housing and meals will receive a refund for any credit balance, per guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Education. These plans may be subject to change should future Department of Education guidance require modifications.

We sincerely appreciate your patience as we work to facilitate these processes and hope this plan meets your expectations in our efforts to ensure we strike the appropriate balance between applicable state laws and fairness to our students. More information, including a Frequently Asked Questions portal, will be provided soon by various offices including the Office of Residence Life, Financial Aid and Finance and Administration.

COVID-19

Dr. Woodward: ‘Wear a damn mask’

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(Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)

Dr. LuAnn Woodward’s frustration is palpable in a tweet she has pinned at the top of her Twitter page.

“Wear a damn mask. Wash your hands. It’s not a big deal. It’s not political. Just do it!” she wrote in July as the first of four bullet points.

Whatever was relevant in July is even more so in November as cases and hospitalizations rocket past July’s numbers.

Woodward is the vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, a place that is intimately familiar with the challenges of providing health care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this week, UMMC was out of critical care beds, similar to all of the big hospitals in Mississippi.

“As of 6:46 am today, UMMC’s bed status is -31 beds, which means that 31 people are admitted but waiting for a bed to become available,” she wrote Wednesday in another tweet. “Who will be #32 or #33 or #34?”

Not all of those beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, but the growing influx of critically ill virus patients means there aren’t beds for people suffering in car crashes, from heart attacks, severe asthma and a host of other potentially life-threatening conditions.

“Those of us in health care are numb, frustrated and so very tired,” she wrote.

Woodward isn’t the only health care leader in Mississippi loudly ringing alarm bells to get people’s attention about the pandemic.

“Our hospitalizations are growing at a rate that is absolutely terrifying,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who heads up the Mississippi State Health Department, in a media briefing Wednesday.

“Without a doubt, I think we’re headed into the darkest period of the coronavirus for Mississippi.”

Dobbs issued guidance Wednesday urging Mississippians against not to attend any unnecessary gatherings, including Christmas parties, just as he asked people to avoid large Thanksgiving celebrations. Other gatherings to avoid include family gatherings outside of the household or nuclear family, weddings, funerals (other than close family and preferably outdoors), sporting events and in-person church services.

Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said they are concerned that high school athletic activities are spreading the virus.

“Dr. Byers and I have long advocated for a delay or limitation on high school athletics, especially in situations where people can’t be socially distant and safe, and I think part of that is we’re paying the price for that right now,” Dobbs said.

The guidance from the nation’s top health care officials around the country mirror what Woodward, Dobbs and Byers have been advocating for months: Wear a mask in public. Avoid groups of people. Observe social distancing. Wash your hands. None of it is difficult and none of it is political, despite those who would have you believe otherwise. The same advice is coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University and many more.

To date, Gov. Tate Reeves has not issued another statewide mask mandate, despite the urging of health officials. He remains convinced that his county-by-county piecemeal approach is more effective. As of Tuesday, 54 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are under restrictive measures due to their increased COVID-19 case counts. Those measures include mandates to wear masks in public and other social distancing orders.

“I am willing to take the political heat … because I believe in my heart and my mind that this is the best strategy to protect my fellow Mississippians,” Reeves said in an interview with WAPT Tuesday.

During the past week, Mississippi set records for one-day new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The seven-day average of new cases was over 1,600 Wednesday, exceeding the previous high set in July of 1,360. Many of Mississippi’s major hospitals have no more room in their ICUs. All of those increases are before the expected spike of new cases from Thanksgiving gatherings, which should begin to show up within the next week or two.

“We need to take responsibility for ourselves, because it’s so widespread right now, and we’re not seeing the community effort out there,” Dobbs said Tuesday. “I’m really asking you guys to protect yourselves.”

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Announcements

Mississippi VA announces changes to its annual Wreaths Across America ceremonies

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(photo courtesy MSVA)

This year, both State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries at Newton and Kilmichael will host private ceremonies for families with loved ones buried at both locations. The events will be held Saturday, Dec. 19, at 11 a.m.

“We must do our part to ensure that we keep as many Veteran families as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, and unfortunately, that means cutting back on the number of attendees at this year’s events”, said Mississippi VA Executive Director Stacey Pickering in a statement. “However, we feel that it is important to honor our resting heroes and allow their families to spend quality time at these hallowed grounds.”

Close to 1,260 Veterans and their families have chosen the State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries as their final resting place. For more information on both State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries, click here.

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‘Check Your Charity’ helps you be an informed giver

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(Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Mississippians are known for their generosity, especially during the holiday season. During the last reporting year, Mississippi charities brought in roughly $1.7 billion. As we creep closer to Christmas, it’s important to remember the wisest giver is an informed giver. The annual “Check Your Charity” campaign encourages Mississippians to check the validity of a charity or organization on the secretary of state website before making a donation.

“Our Check Your Charity campaign aligns with one of our agency’s missions to make government more transparent,” said Secretary of State Michael Watson in a release. “We are committed to providing as much information as possible to shield Mississippians from scammers, not just during the holiday season but all year-round. This has been an incredibly challenging year for many families, and I am incredibly proud of the work our Charities Division is doing to protect Mississippians’ hard-earned money.”

All charitable organizations are required to register with the secretary of state’s office and renew yearly. Certain types of organizations are exempt from registration but are nevertheless required to file a notice of exemption with the secretary’s office.

Each year, the secretary’s office publishes a “Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi” to provide transparency and keep citizens informed of critical financial information regarding Mississippi charities. The annual report includes information such as total revenue, fundraising expenses and charitable purpose expenses.

Click here to view the 2020 Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi.

Mississippians should keep the following in mind when making decisions regarding charitable donations:

  • Check your charity. Use the “Charity Search” portal on the secretary of state website to verify the charity is registered with the State. Ask questions before giving and be sure to ask for answers in writing. Legitimate charities will always welcome your inquiries.
  • Avoid pressure tactics. You do not have to make a donation immediately; take time to evaluate the information provided by the charity.
  • Watch for similar names. Many charities have similar names. Often, scam artists intentionally use names resembling those of respected groups. Take a few extra minutes to research the charity online so you can be sure your donation goes to the right place.
  • Be wary of telephone calls. Always get the name of the person calling and the exact name and spelling of the charity. Ask if the caller is a professional fundraiser, and if they are, ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity.
    • Consumer organizations recommend at least 65% of a charity’s total expenses be spent on program activities directly related to the charity’s purpose.
  • Verify mail solicitations. Be wary of mail containing novelty items you can keep “if you contribute.” Federal law states that unless you ordered the item, you can keep it without contributing.
  • Always get receipts. Receipts are vital for tax deductions and provide a tracking mechanism for donations. To be safe, always donate by credit card or check (directly to the charity).

Taking these extra steps will not only protect you, it will also ensure your donation goes to those who need it most. For more information, contact the Charities Division at 601-359-1599, or click here to send an email to one of the Charities team members.

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