Citing 'Billions of Dollars Left Unspent' From CARES Act, ED Launches Online Portal to Track Use of Emergency Funds

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The Department of Education (ED) has unveiled a new tool that provides information on how states and institutions of higher education are utilizing funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and has concluded that certain recipients are not doing enough to utilize the emergency aid.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the data demonstrates how states have “neglected their obligations to provide full-time education, while complaining about a lack of resources.”

The portal launch comes as a number of colleges and universities across the country are sending students home, which was in some cases preemptively planned to reduce potential COVID-19 transmissions around the holidays, and recent decisions by states like California and New York that have scaled back in-person instruction following a national uptick in coronavirus cases.

DeVos in an announcement touting the new tool specifically called out New York state and New York City for drawing down less than 0.1% of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, while praising efforts made by Kentucky and Iowa, where according to the portal officials have spent the majority of their funding to successfully open schools. 

While DeVos was critical of certain statewide efforts she did commend institutions of higher education in utilizing the aid, which she said “did a much better job, and I especially appreciate their clear efforts to make sure their students received the resources meant for them.”

On the state level, DeVos took particular issue that only $1.6 billion of the $13.2 billion (about 12%) provided by the ESSER Fund — awarded to the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. — had been spent.

Additionally, of the $3 billion allocated to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, a total of $535 million, or 18%, had been spent, with 34 governors yet to spend more than 1% of their allocated funding.

The CARES Act provided $14 billion in grants through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to more than 5,000 institutions of higher education. By law, about half of those awards need to be distributed to students in the form of emergency financial aid grants, and as of the end of September, institutions had spent $9 billion, 64% of the total. 

DeVos has been a vocal proponent of reopening schools in order to resume in-person learning for students and serves as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. 

Early next year, ED will aim to expand the portal’s capabilities and allow state and institutional grantees under the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) to submit annual reports.


Publication Date: 11/23/2020

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