Updated 4/10 at 12:35 p.m. to note that ED has confirmed the grant opportunity will be posted to grants.gov “soon.” In the meantime, schools should be focused on ensuring they are registered for the site.
More than $6 billion in emergency funds to help students impacted by the novel coronavirus will be distributed “immediately,” according to Department of Education (ED) Secretary Betsy DeVos. In a call with stakeholders on Thursday afternoon, Under Secretary Diane Jones said that funds could disburse as early as next Wednesday.
DeVos said in a press release Thursday afternoon that the roughly $6 billion allocated to colleges and universities is to be used to provide direct emergency cash grants to students adversely impacted by the ongoing pandemic. The list of individual allocations to colleges and universities was made available to the public.
The funds are part of the more than $14 billion earmarked for colleges and universities as part of the Education Stabilization Fund included in the third coronavirus stimulus package, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump late last month.
“What’s best for students is at the center of every decision we make,” DeVos said in a statement. “That’s why we prioritized getting funding out the door quickly to college students who need it most. We don’t want unmet financial needs due to the coronavirus to derail their learning.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, issued a statement in response to ED’s announcement.
“While I am pleased that the first $6 billion in emergency funding is now being made available, we must recognize that is just one step in a long and challenging effort to maintain access to education for students across the country,” he said.
DeVos added that the “only stipulation” for colleges to receive the money will be to sign a certification form attesting that they will use the funding in accordance with the law. Institutions will want to pay close attention to the details in the certification form. For schools asking how they can upload their certification agreement to grants.gov, ED has confirmed that the grant opportunity will be posted online “soon.” In the meantime, schools should be focused on ensuring they are registered for the site.
The funding and certification agreement that institutions must sign to receive the funding makes clear that colleges and universities must “promptly and to the greatest extent practicable distribute all the advanced funds in the form of emergency financial aid grants to students by one year from the date” they sign.
Additionally, it stipulates that institutions are not able to use the money to reimburse themselves for any costs or expenses like those associated with changes to the delivery of instruction as a result of the coronavirus. ED also made clear that institutions cannot reimburse themselves for previously-issued refunds to students, a question that has come up among NASFAA members who may have already issued refunds to their students for institutional room and board or tuition and fees.
“These are cash grants to students,” said Under Secretary Jones. Assistant Secretary Bob King said that additional funding from the CARES Act could possibly be used to reimburse schools for lost revenue, refunds, and other expenditures. More details on those funds will be released in the future, according to King.
Under the law, higher education institutions are required to use the money directly on students to cover unforeseen expenses related to disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus, including but not limited to food, housing, health care, and course-related materials.
In a letter to college and university presidents, DeVos writes that each institution receiving the emergency assistance “may develop its own system and process for determining how to allocate these funds,” granting institutions flexibility in determining which students receive grants. Notably, neither the statute or certification form require that these funds be provided to Title IV eligible students, meaning schools are able to cast a wider net in determining and meeting emergency needs.
“The only statutory requirement is that the funds be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus,” the letter reads.
The letter recommends that institutions should prioritize their students with the greatest need when awarding these emergency funds, with the maximum Pell Grant award of $6,195 for this academic year serving as an example of the maximum emergency grant amount.
In addition, should an institution determine that their students are not in need of the funding, they are encouraged to allocate the resources to other colleges and universities within the state or region.
The April 3 ED guidance indicated that these individual emergency financial aid grants — or any federal or state emergency grants used to provide relief to students — are not counted as estimated financial assistance for packaging purposes. The certification form also makes clear that ED does not consider these individual emergency financial aid grants Title IV aid.
Schools will be required to report how grants were distributed to students, the amount of each grant awarded to each student, how the amount of each grant was calculated, among other things within 30 days from signing the certification form, and every 45 days thereafter.
DeVos’ letter to college and university leaders added that ED is “working expeditiously” to allocate the additional funding that was set aside for institutional use and that additional details would be made available in the coming days.
ED included in its announcement a methodology for how it calculated the allocations schools are set to receive.
For more information and resources on how the spread of the novel coronavirus is impacting student financial aid, please refer to NASFAA's COVID-19 Web Center.
Updated 4/10 at 12:35 p.m.
Publication Date: 4/9/2020