Coronavirus relief package includes $14.2B for colleges and universities

The $2.2 trillion emergency aid package signed by President Trump on March 27 includes $14.2 billion for colleges and universities, but higher education leaders say more is needed to buoy institutions strained by the COVID-19 crisis. Colleges and universities not only are scrambling to provide financial assistance to displaced students but also are refunding key funding streams like room and board, and facing potential enrollment declines, Education Dive reports.

Emergency funding to cover COVID-19-related expenses

The stimulus package, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, includes $2.95 billion that state governments can distribute at their discretion to colleges and universities or K-12 schools. More significantly, it creates a $14.2 billion Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to provide support directly to institutions for COVID-19 related expenses.

According to an analysis of the legislation by education research and services firm EAB, that $14.2 billion includes $992 million for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. It also provides $12.56 billion to help institutions cover coronavirus-related disruptions and emergency assistance for students, three-fourths of which will be distributed based on the number of full-time Pell Grant recipients. The remaining 25 percent will be distributed based on total in-person enrollment. The fund also includes $331 million for institutions that still have significant unmet need after those calculations—likely smaller schools, EAB notes.

The CARES Act stipulates that institutions must use at least half of their relief funding to cover emergency student financial aid for coronavirus-related disruptions affecting food, housing, child care, course materials, technology, and health care needs. The remainder can be used for most other COVID-19 related costs—for instance, the transition to online learning.

Noting that a large portion of federal funds will need to flow through universities in order to reach students, EAB is encouraging higher education leaders to proactively “position their institution to best deploy these resources when they arrive.” Financial aid offices are already strained, EAB notes, even without the work required to quickly and fairly distribute millions of dollars in additional aid.

CARES Act relaxes some financial aid policies

The CARES Act also addresses financial aid, suspending federal student loan payments for six months while halting interest accrual, and relaxing certain policies. For instance, under the CARES Act, institutions will not need to match federal funds provided to them for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal Work Study programs during the emergency period.

Students participating in Federal Work Study also can continue receiving their wages, even if COVID-19 disruptions prevent them from doing their job. Institutions also can now use federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants to offer emergency aid without impacting the cost of attendance.

One-time stimulus payments exclude many college students

The CARES Act also includes one-time payments distributed directly to Americans who meet certain income criteria—but “that is little comfort for many college students and adult dependents who are left out,” the The Wall Street Journal writes. The payments will provide $1,200 to most adults and $500 for children under age 17, but the legislation excludes anyone over that age who can be claimed as someone else’s dependent.

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