Pan Am student volunteers to earn OSAP breaks

For the first time ever, Ontario will play host to the Pan American and Parapan American Games in Toronto summer 2015.

And it’s not just the province that will reap the benefits of this major sports event.

The ministry of training, colleges and universities announced that students who receive support through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and also volunteer for the Games will receive breaks and grace period deductions for their student loans.

“We want to make sure that all students can have that once-in-a-life time opportunity to volunteer,” Minister Brad Duguid said. “This is probably something that more of a once in a generation opportunity.”

New and returning students who volunteer for the games will not be required to make a pre-study financial contribution — a contribution from the money you earn up to 16 weeks prior to the start of your studies.

This will ensure that students will receive more support through OSAP to account for their inability to work at paid jobs during the summer break.

Toronto 2015 will require 26,000 volunteers; this program hopes to attract 5,000 students.

“It’s a break for students. It gives them an opportunity to do this without being financially harmed while doing it,” said Duguid.

Volunteers will also be able to defer paying their OSAP loan for one full year after completing their full-time studies. This will provide an additional six months before interest is charged on top of student loans.

However, questions have arisen about whether an OSAP break for this group is fair.

For example, there is criticism that students who volunteer for any not-for-profit organization should be eligibile for OSAP deductions or loan extensions.

But according to the Minister, they can.

“Just this year we made provisions where any student who is volunteering or working in a not-for-profit organization or any student who starts their own business will get a six month grace period before they have to start paying back their student loans and their interest kicks in,” the minister said.

When The Cord spoke to the Ontario Volunteer Centre Network, they were unaware of such a program.

“I would love to know more about it,” said Carine Strong, the Chair of the OVCN.

“We are the volunteer centre and that’s a great incentive,” she added.

“I wish it was publically known because if that is the case then that is a huge boost for volunteerism.”

The criteria for the not-for-profit volunteerism OSAP break is currently only eligible for those who are currently paying off their OSAP loans, but are also working 30-hours a week in a paid or volunteer position with an eligible not-for-profit organization in Ontario.

This means that students who volunteer while in school are not eligible for OSAP extensions.

Students can also apply for a six-month extension on the existing grace period. During this period, no payments will be required on full-time OSAP Loans and the province will pay the interest.

“30 hours a week is a fair bit,” Strong admitted.

“That would prevent you from seeking employment.”

Duguid expects that the Pan Am Games will generate a lot of interest.

“These aren’t just students who live in Toronto,” he said.

“I think students would want to come from all across the province to take advantage of this opportunity with the Pan Am Games.”

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