ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — More than an entire school year’s time has come and gone, but UAlbany senior Ciera Hommel says she’s sad that the only thing that’s stayed largely the same throughout the pandemic is how much college students are paying, even when they’re not even on campus.

“There was a sports fee, there was, I think it was worded a ‘campus experience’ fee, recreational fees, and you know you start reading through those and you’re like, what campus experience?” she recalls to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singelton.

“It was like a ghost town on campus, so then you get that bill and it just feels really unjust,” Hommel also says.

Hommel and some fellow students put together a small petition in 2020 begging SUNY schools reduce their tuition, especially for those under severe financial hardship. Governor Cuomo announced Wednesday there will be a CUNY Comeback program to offer $125 million in debt relief to around 50,000 eligible students. The initiative prioritizing financially burdened students is now being advertised as the largest of its kind in the country.

“That’s the most important that people that need it the most should absolutely come first,” Hommel says, relieved.

A statement from a SUNY representative says a similar plan utilizing American Rescue Plan funds is on the way:

SUNY has already been providing relief to our students since the beginning of the pandemic totaling over $500 million in refunds and emergency grants. This includes over $244 million in relief for fees and housing and over $286 million in emergency grants to help students in need to cover such things as past due bills. We are finalizing a plan for additional student relief under the American Rescue Plan.

Leo Rosales, SUNY Spokesperson

“We wanted these institutions to work towards, you know, providing financial justice to the students and how can we go about bettering that. Hearing that’s in the works is just such a relief,” Hommel says.

The CUNY program is eligible to students enrolled between March 13, 2020, and the end of Spring 2021 semester. Students with proven financial hardship, including students eligible for Pell Grants, will automatically have tuition and fees covered without the need to apply. The same goes for students with an outstanding Spring 2020-Spring 2021 balance after graduating anytime after March 13, 2020 and students with an outstanding balance of $100 or less.

SUNY has not specified if the same criteria will be used for its program.