GAO Report on CARES Act Provides Update on Status and Use of Funds

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

With more reporting data now readily available, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a new report on how institutions have utilized funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

In this latest installment, the agency examined how funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) were provided to schools under the CARES Act, and how schools distributed those emergency dollars to eligible students.

As of November 2020, GAO found that the Department of Education (ED) had awarded $6.19 billion to 4,778 schools that applied for emergency student aid funds from HEERF.

Of those funds, $3.1 billion was allocated to public four-year schools, $1.3 billion to public two-year schools and $1.1 billion to private nonprofit four-year schools. Within the total pot of funding, $372.8 million and $167.7 million was respectively allocated to private for-profit two- and four-year institutions.

The latest education data then showed that, as of November 2020, schools had drawn down about 90% — or $5.6 billion — of their HEERF student aid funds, with the average grant amount per student being about $830. About 70% of schools had drawn down all of their student aid funds, and an additional 24% of schools had drawn down at least half.

The report also details how certain institutions determined student eligibility, the methods they used for awarding HEERF emergency student aid to students, as well as the ways in which award amounts were determined.

In terms of determining HEERF eligibility, approximately half of institutions required a completed FAFSA. In order to meet this requirement, one school in the report required students who did not have a FAFSA on file to complete one by June 2020 to be eligible for student aid.

Other schools did not require a FAFSA to establish eligibility, but reported using alternative methods. For instance, a four-year public school gave graduate students applying for emergency aid the option of submitting a school-provided affidavit certifying they were eligible to receive federal financial aid, an option described in ED’s interim final rule on student eligibility.

GAO did not include any recommendations in the report, but also provided a letter from ED that detailed additional actions taken by the department on March 19, 2021. That announcement signaled ED's intent for institutions to have as much flexibility as possible when using their HEERF funds so they may address the financial impacts of COVID-19 on their students and infrastructure to the fullest extent possible.

This latest report is a snapshot of the data made available as of November 2020, and additional agency reporting is likely with the implementation of HEERF II and HEERF III.

Stay tuned to Today’s News and NASFAA’s COVID-19 Web Center for the latest news on the federal response to the pandemic.


Publication Date: 4/22/2021

Peter G | 4/29/2021 8:43:58 PM

Perhaps I'm missing something, but by that point HEERF reporting was quarterly aside from the annual report due in Jan 2021, was it not? What is the source for November data, then?

They could look at drawdowns from G5, but that wouldn't necessarily match what schools had spent nor why/how.

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