Senate Democrats' Latest COVID Relief Proposal Would Direct $130 Billion to Higher Education

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Senate Democrats led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Senate education committee, put forward a new coronavirus relief package that would provide additional aid for institutions of higher education and impose a number of restrictions on the Department of Education's (ED) authority in implementation of the new bill.

The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA), which totals $430 billion, would allocate $132 billion for higher education to help colleges and universities — including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges, and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) — deliver education-based initiatives, implement public health protocols, and provide emergency financial aid to students for expenses like food, housing, child care, and technology. Notably, the bill would change the allocation formula used in the CARES Act to distribute funds using student headcount, instead of full-time enrollment, in order to "ensure community colleges that enroll more part-time students receive more equitable support."

"Democrats are laying out a path to save millions of child care slots, nearly two million education jobs, and keep this pandemic from widening disparities that already harm students of color disproportionately — because we believe doing so is essential if we hope to come back from this difficult time stronger," Murray said. "I hope Republicans agree."

Ninety percent of the $132 billion the bill allocates to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) established in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act would be given to public and private non-profit institutions, which must still use at least 50% of funds to provide emergency financial aid grants to students. The bill clarifies that emergency financial aid grants awarded to students under this section could be used for any components of a student's cost of attendance, and removes the CARES Act requirement that grants could only be awarded to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to the pandemic.

It also allows schools to use the institutional portion of their allotment to cover lost revenues, which was not included in the allowable uses under the CARES Act.

The bill would allocate 1% of the $132 billion to proprietary institutions, vocational institutions, and institutions outside the United States that have been deemed eligible for Title IV aid, that enrolled all students attending the institution in exclusively distance education prior to the pandemic. All of these funds would be required to be used by schools to provide emergency financial aid grants to students. An additional 1.5% would be distributed among proprietary institutions to "prevent, prepare for, and respond to the qualifying emergency," which must also be used exclusively for emergency student grants. 

Additionally, the bill would grant HBCUs more flexibility with respect to their endowments and capital financing loans, and includes language that would enact a "maintenance of effort" requirement that would prohibit states from cutting their education spending for three years. 

Aside from these additional funds, the measure would further outline congressional intent as it related to the CARES Act — an issue for which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has come under fire in the months since the relief package was signed into law. 

Sponsors said the measure "addresses the numerous ways that Secretary DeVos has violated congressional intent when implementing the CARES Act to advance her partisan agenda."

Specifically the package would aim to ensure that individuals enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be eligible for financial assistance, which the department has previously argued in a number of court cases was not Congress' intent.

The bill also includes additional students who were barred from aid due to ED's guidance that would bar non-Title IV-eligible students — including those who have not filled out a FAFSA, are struggling academically, have a minor drug conviction, have previously defaulted on a student loan, and those who are veterans using GI Bill benefits — from receiving emergency grants.

"Bold solutions are needed now to save teaching jobs, preserve millions of child care slots, and ensure every student has access to safe, quality education," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "Senate Democrats' bill lays out a clear path to achieve just that."

This legislation comes as Congress is currently in the early stages of crafting its next bicameral aid package to counter the economic impact of the novel coronavirus. While House Democrats passed their proposal for the next supplemental package — dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act — in May, Senate Republicans have not yet introduced a comprehensive proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said the Senate will focus on the next relief package following the chamber's two-week recess starting July 3, with the goal of finalizing the package before Congress' planned August recess.


Publication Date: 7/1/2020

G. Michael J | 7/1/2020 11:44:46 AM

What James said. The students at the rural community college where I work have experienced relatively small increases to their expenses, but many have had - and continue to have - upheavals due to income losses.

James C | 7/1/2020 9:23:58 AM

I wish they specifically would put in language that says "provide financial aid to students who have experienced a loss of income in their household (which includes parents if the student is dependent) because of covid-19." We do have some students of course with housing, food or technology issues but we are seeing parents with job losses who would like a little extra help and a PJ often does not put them into Pell range.

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