House Committee Advances Education Portion of COVID Relief Package, With $40 Billion for Higher Ed

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The House Education and Labor Committee advanced the education portion of the fiscal year 2021 budget reconciliation on a party line vote Tuesday, following a lengthy markup session that was frequently held up by amendments submitted by Republican lawmakers. 

“In response to the severe financial strain that COVID-19 has placed on institutions of higher education, the bill also provides nearly $40 billion to support colleges and universities, half of which has to go towards emergency financial aid for students,” Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said during his opening remarks. 

Republicans were strongly opposed to the legislation and submitted several amendments attempting to condition the funding to having schools reopen for in-person instruction, arguing that the federal relief money was going toward schools that were choosing to continue virtual instruction. The amendments were overruled by the Democratic majority, which said more resources are needed for schools to reopen safely. Several other amendments were in opposition to a measure in the legislation that would incrementally increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"This one-sided budget reconciliation scheme accomplishes more for the left-wing playbook than it does for struggling Americans," said Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), decrying some of the Democratic policy priorities included in the legislation.

The nearly $40 billion in pandemic relief aid for institutions of higher education is roughly $5 billion more than President Joe Biden called for in his sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. One key difference is that House Democrats opted not to include a $5 billion education fund for governors, instead putting that money into the funds directed to higher education.

The funding would be made available to institutions through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), and would utilize the same allocation formula and allowable uses of funds as the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA). As was the case with HEERF allocations received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, public and private non-profit institutions receiving new funds would be required to spend at least 50% of their allocation on emergency financial aid grants provided directly to students, and proprietary institutions would be required to spend 100% of their allocations on student grants.

Ahead of the hearing, NASFAA joined others in the higher education community in a letter to the House committee, saying that while the funding the bill calls for is less than half of the $97 billion “we know students and campuses need, it is the most significant effort so far to address the crippling financial impact of the pandemic on American higher education.”

“What is worse, we know that the financial impact of the pandemic has disproportionately affected low-income students and communities of color,” the letter said. “Substantial federal support is critical to limiting the losses experienced and to restoring opportunity to those who most need it.”

Notably, the bill includes language stating that “an institution shall solely determine which students receive emergency financial aid grants under this section,” presumably opening the door to allow undocumented and international students to receive emergency student grants should the school determine them to be eligible. 

The legislation also included a measure that would make changes to the federal 90/10 rule, which prohibits for-profit colleges from receiving more than 90% of their revenue from Title IV aid programs.

If passed, the bill would close what critics call the “90/10 loophole” by requiring that military and veteran benefits now be included as federal benefits under the 90 percent portion. It is unclear whether HEERF funds received by students would be counted in the federal portion. An amendment from Foxx, which did not pass, would have excluded Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs funds from the 90/10 calculation.

The education committee is one of several House committees tasked with advancing portions of the relief package through budget reconciliation after congressional Democrats last week passed a joint fiscal year 2021 budget resolution as a way to bypass the Senate filibuster and pass the package without needing any Republican votes.

The House is moving quickly on the package, and leaders have said that they expect the entire package will be on the floor in the coming week, while the Senate is working with House leaders on the package as the upper chamber moves forward with impeachment proceedings.  

 

Publication Date: 2/10/2021


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