House Passes First Round of COVID Relief Under Biden Administration

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

Following a weeks-long drafting and extensive markup process, the House early Saturday morning passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan which closely mirrors President Joe Biden’s initial proposal, unveiled at the outset of his presidency.

The measure passed 219-212 on a near party-line vote, with no Republicans voting in favor of the package and two Democrats breaking party ranks to oppose the relief effort that would allocate $170 billion for education. 

It specifically calls for an expansion of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), asking Congress to provide nearly $40 billion in funding to colleges and universities.

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.

“The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” the White House said in a press release. “This bill is based on the plan that the President proposed to the Congress in January. It provides the tools and support critical to meet the moment and tackle the urgent public health and economic crises the Nation faces as a result of COVID-19.”

The new measure also made a number procedural changes to the original text, including the removal of one allowable use of funds — to carry out student support activities authorized by the Higher Education Act that address needs related to coronavirus — and a requirement that funds be distributed through the same systems used for Title IV aid. Additionally, a provision that institutions that received funding from the CARES Act  did not have to apply for the new round of funding was removed, along with the 90-day window in which those institutions had to apply or have their funds reallocated.

The version of the bill that passed the House contained language that would leave it up to ED to determine student eligibility for emergency grants, while the measure that advanced through the House Education and Labor committee would have left that decision up to institutions of higher education.

ED had previously, under the Trump administration, faced legal challenges over its interpretation that previous congressionally-approved aid left undocumented students, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and international students ineligible to receive emergency aid.

“Our new leadership team is currently conducting a review of ongoing enforcement and litigation to understand the positions the agency has taken and identify areas where we may or may not want to take a different posture,” an ED spokesperson said. 

NASFAA, at the start of the Biden administration, urged ED to allow undocumented students, DACA recipients, and international students to be eligible to receive emergency aid grants from the new round of aid (HEERF II) passed in a year-end spending deal in December.

The package now heads to the Senate, where it will have to comply with a number of procedural hurdles in order to adhere to the reconciliation process. The budgetary maneuver allows a bill to advance with a simple majority instead of a 60-vote threshold, so long as the provisions comply with certain budgetary guidelines.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged to have the bill sent to the president’s desk by March 14, coinciding with the expiration of a number of extraneous programs related to coronavirus relief.

For more details on coronavirus relief, see NASFAA’s COVID-19 News Coverage page.


Publication Date: 3/1/2021

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