On Friday, the Department of Education (ED) provided written responses to several outstanding questions sent by the community related to the second round of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF II) aid that was authorized under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA), which was signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020.
The questions and answers were provided directly to the higher education community from ED staff, and they have indicated that they will formally publish the Q&A document in the near future.
In their communication, ED confirmed that institutions have one year to spend funds from the date when ED processed the most recent obligation of funds for that specific grant. This is consistent with the law, but needed clarification because many institutions received Grant Award Notifications (GANs) for their HEERF II funds with spending deadline dates that incorrectly reflected their Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act HEERF I spending deadlines. ED has indicated separately that it will issue revised HEERF II GANs with correct spending deadlines, but is focusing first on getting HEERF II funds distributed to institutions.
ED has clarified that non-degree seeking, non-credit, dual enrollment, and continuing education students are all eligible to receive HEERF II student grants as well as unspent CARES Act HEERF I student grants. On the question of undocumented students, international students, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, ED indicates only that it is exploring additional opportunities for colleges to support such students. Currently, these students cannot receive HEERF dollars because the most recent interpretation from ED, which came from the Trump administration, stated that the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PROWA), which prohibits certain noncitizens from receiving federal benefits, applies here. NASFAA and other associations have urged ED to allow undocumented students, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and international students to be eligible to receive emergency aid grants from the new round of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund aid (HEERF II).
For students who have ceased enrollment from their institutions for any reason and at any point since the national emergency was declared on March 13, 2020, ED has clarified that they may receive emergency grants from HEERF II as well as unspent CARES Act HEERF I funds.
ED clarifies also that students can authorize institutions to apply HEERF II grants to student account charges, even in cases where the charges were posted prior to Dec. 27, 2020. Still unanswered is the question of whether HEERF II grants can cover student expenses incurred prior to Dec. 27, 2020 in situations where the institution is releasing the HEERF II grant directly to the student. In the absence of student authorization to apply HEERF II grants to student account charges, institutions are still permitted to use the student's account as a pass-through mechanism for disbursing grants directly to the student, as was permitted for CARES Act HEERF I funds, so long as those funds remain unencumbered by the institution. ED indicated that it is in the process of developing guidance on awarding emergency grants for expenses incurred prior to Dec. 27, 2020.
Finally, ED clarified that employee benefits may be considered payroll expenses under section 314(c)(1) of CRRSAA, which specified the allowable uses of HEERF II funds and unspent CARES Act HEERF I funds. However, as for other institutional expenses associated with coronavirus, those expenses must have been incurred on or after Dec. 27, 2020 in order to defray those expenses using HEERF II funds. If unspent CARES Act HEERF I funds are being used to cover payroll and/or benefits expenses incurred prior to Dec. 27, 2020, those funds could not be spent under the expanded allowable uses in CRRSAA and would instead be subject to CARES Act approved uses of funds.
ED has indicated that it will formally publish these Q&As soon. Relevant AskRegs articles will be updated in the Knowledgebase as soon as possible following ED's publication of the Q&A document. Watch Today's News for updates.
Publication Date: 3/1/2021