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As the University of Wisconsin-Madison joined universities around the country in shutting down dorms, classrooms and event venues because of coronavirus, Jennifer Morzfeld found herself wading through a barrage of emails.

In the midst of finding out about her coursework, the junior political science and international affairs student got one message in particular that left her with a pressing concern, one that thousands of college students now face.

Had she just been laid off?

“We got an email from somebody at the (Memorial Union) saying that student workers are nonessential workers so anybody who has a job at the union is not able to work anymore,” Morzfeld said. “That was pretty much the gist of it. They didn’t provide resources or tell us what we can do — if we can apply for unemployment, if we can still be paid in some capacity.”

Morzfeld is one of 10,000 hourly student workers at UW-Madison alone, paying her way through school on her own. Thousands of other students across the country are in the same, or a similar, situation. They have found out they are “nonessential” workers, without the pay they relied on to cover tuition, rent and other living expenses.

Jennifer Morzfeld, a junior and political science major at UW-Madison, works on a class assignment on March 25 at her Milwaukee home. Morzfeld normally works three jobs to pay for rent and other expenses at her apartment and is among the many who are unable to work because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Campus administrators recognize the problem. In an email to students March 26, UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone acknowledged the rapid move to online courses was tough enough, but “those who had campus jobs and have not been able to continue in those jobs are struggling to pay bills.”

UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee announced plans to make payments to their student hourly workers in late March, and other UW System institutions will follow suit with their own payment plans, a system spokesman told the Journal Sentinel


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