Over the past several days, the sports world came to a screeching halt. The NHL, MLB, NBA and many others have either canceled or postponed their seasons, and it’s not just professional sports that have been impacted. One week ago, the NCAA and the America East (AE) made official announcements that canceled their spring seasons because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
With all of Binghamton University’s canceled sporting events came lost jobs. Students who work for BU athletics and the BU health and wellness studies department, such as athletics events staff, ESPN production assistants and lifeguards, have lost their employment for the spring semester.
In the professional world, there have been many documented cases of teams and athletes providing hourly wages to their event staff to temper the blow of the elimination of their positions by virtue of canceled events; however, for part-time student assistants, no such benefits exist.
“Nothing was offered for me — no other opportunities,” said Emily Barnes, an ESPN production assistant with the athletics department and a senior majoring in English. “It was basically just like this is it and we’re no longer.”
According to the New York State Department of Labor, “students enrolled in and in regular attendance at the educational institution that employs them or their spouses” and “students enrolled at a nonprofit or public educational institution in certain work-study programs that combine academic instruction and work experience” are excluded from unemployment insurance benefits.
Keirsten Frair, a West Gym lifeguard and a senior majoring in biology, said she may able to make her monthly payments without an income. Frair, a commuter, is expected to pay for gas, interest on student loans and more than $150 a month for car insurance.
“I live about 40 minutes to campus and I don’t have enough self-funding to live on campus, and the government doesn’t give me enough money to be able to [live on campus],” Frair said. “That being said, I need to fill up my car once a week with gas just to get to school, and not having a car because I let my insurance lapse is not an option.”
Some unemployed students are attempting to find work, but with all nonessential businesses shut down across New York state, including movie theaters, bars, restaurants and schools, securing new jobs is difficult.
“There have been no alternatives provided,” Frair said. “I have tried to seek them out on my own, but [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo shut down basically all nonessential business, so it is really hard to find another job to suffice.”
Without the option for unemployment insurance benefits, Frair said she believes BU should issue refunds on some aspects of student life.
“They need to give us at least partial refunds back to us on things that we obviously won’t be using that we paid for at the beginning of the semester,” Frair said. “In my case, I should be able to get my transportation fee back because I’ll obviously be at home, so I won’t be using that, the Decker Student Health Services [Center] fee, my [Health and Wellness Studies 202: Scuba] fee and basically any fee that is conditional on being on campus.”
Barnes criticized the University’s response to the pandemic, and said BU should have prepared a plan so its student employees would not be “stuck” and “displaced.”
“I don’t think there’s much [the University] can do at this point just because of the situation that we’re in, but I definitely think there should have been some sort of severance pay, because some students definitely rely on this,” Barnes said. “Understandably, it’s difficult to do that because you’re not doing anything for the money, but again, that wasn’t their choice.”
Frair and Barnes are just two of the hundreds of student employees displaced from their jobs after the cancellation of BU athletics events. For those who are not graduating, jobs are expected to return next year, but Frair said they are currently left in a difficult position.
“I don’t know how I am going to be able to make my payments without any sort of job or help,” Frair said.