Further Pandemic Relief Coming to Higher Education
On December 27, 2020, Congress allocated $23 billion in further emergency relief aid for colleges and universities, and their students, which is $9 billion more than the amount appropriated last spring under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The new law adds funds to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (“HEERF”), to be distributed by the U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”). Among other things, the new law provides funding that is weighted favorably towards Pell-eligible students, and includes some measure of support to part-time students and students who are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses.
Under the new law, schools must give out at least the same amount in emergency grants to students as they were required to provide under the CARES Act. The new law also states that, in making emergency grants, institutions should prioritize grants to students with exceptional need, such as those who are Pell-eligible. It is worth noting that the new law allows funds to be used to reimburse students and institutions for a broader swath of expenses than does the CARES Act. One issue that remains unsettled is whether the DOE will extend to the new law its interpretation under the CARES Act that undocumented students cannot receive emergency grants because they are not eligible for Title IV Federal Student Aid funding.
Last week, the DOE released details on exactly how much money thousands of institutions are expected to receive under the new law. The DOE is instructed, pursuant to the new law, to distribute the funds “to the extent practicable” within 30 days of the law’s enactment. Meanwhile, billions more in aid could be on the way, as the incoming Biden Administration has released plans for additional stimulus that include another $35 billion in help specifically for colleges and universities.