House Republicans Disaster Relief Bill Includes Higher Ed Provisions

By Megan Coval, Policy & Federal Relations Staff

Republicans in the House of Representatives earlier this week released an $81 billion disaster relief package to aid those impacted by disasters this year. The bill addresses Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and 2017 wildfires designated a major disaster or emergency by President Trump and would allocate $2.9 billion toward the Department of Education (ED) through Sept. 30, 2021.

As it relates to higher education, the bill stipulates that funds shall be used:

  • For emergency assistance to institutions of higher education and students attending institutions of higher education in an area directly affected by a covered disaster or emergency;
  • For payments to institutions of higher education to help defray the unexpected expenses associated with enrolling displaced students from institutions of higher education directly affected by a covered disaster or emergency; and
  • To provide assistance to local educational agencies serving homeless children and youth.

Up to $200 million (of the $2.9 billion) shall be for FWS and FSEOG for institutions located in an area affected by a covered disaster or emergency, and students enrolled in such institutions. The bill stipulates that all non-federal share requirements will be waived, and also allows for funds to used for student awards and faculty and staff salaries, equipment, student supplies and instruments, or any purpose authorized under the Higher Education Act (HEA). In addition, the bill directs ED to prioritize, to the extent possible, students who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless as a result of displacement, and institutions that have sustained extensive damage, by a covered disaster or emergency.

Up to $120 million (of the $2.9 billion) shall be for payments to institutions of higher education to help defray the unexpected expenses associated with enrolling displaced students from institutions of higher education at which operations have been disrupted by a covered disaster or emergency, in accordance with criteria established by ED and to be made publicly available.

The bill states that ED may waive, modify, or provide extensions for certain requirements of the HEA for affected individuals, affected students, and affected institutions in covered disaster or emergency areas in the same manner as ED was authorized to waive in disaster-related legislation that was passed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. This blanket authority would permit ED to provide waivers and modifications that it deems necessary, such as waiving late disbursement and return of Title IV funds rules, and the regular student eligibility criterion.

While there is a great deal of uncertainty around fiscal year (FY) 2018 funding, House Republicans intend to attach this bill to the funding measure that will need to pass by Friday, December 22, in order to prevent a government shutdown.

 

Publication Date: 12/21/2017


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