On Tuesday, the Department of Education (ED) released new guidance on the third round of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants authorized by the American Rescue Plan. The department also released institutional allocations for HEERF III grants to public and nonprofit institutions, as well as proprietary institutions.
While most of the FAQs are consistent with previous guidance provided for HEERF I and HEERF II, there are some notable additions.
In a break from the Trump administration's interpretation — which held that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), a federal law that prohibits nonqualified aliens from receiving federal benefits — applies to HEERF grants, ED stated definitively in Tuesday's guidance that not only citizens and permanent residents, but also “refugees, asylum seekers, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students” qualify for HEERF student grants. They also explicitly note that international students can receive these funds, but that institutions must still ensure that they prioritize awarding of funds to students with exceptional need. Institutions are encouraged in the guidance to prioritize domestic students in awarding these grants.
The American Rescue Plan included two new spending requirements for HEERF institutional share dollars. Institutions are now required to spend a portion of their institutional share to implement evidence-based practices to monitor and suppress coronavirus in accordance with public health guidelines, and to conduct direct outreach to financial aid applicants about the opportunity to receive a financial aid adjustment by requesting professional judgment (PJ). Tuesday's guidance states that these requirements do not apply to institutions that choose to use all of their institutional share allocation to make student emergency grants.
Tuesday's FAQ document provides clarity on these two requirements, with examples of allowable spending on coronavirus monitoring and suppression including but not limited to providing testing, vaccinations, personal protective equipment (PPE), and cleaning and sanitization.
On the PJ outreach requirement, ED provides examples of direct outreach, which include but are not limited to postal mail, email to students who receive financial aid, phone or voice communication, webinar invitations, or in-person meetings. ED explicitly notes that passive communications, such as posting the opportunity for HEERF grants on the institution's website, are not acceptable to meet this requirement.
ED does not specify an amount or percentage that constitutes what portion of institutional HEERF III funds institutions must spend on these two activities, instead referring institutions to the Cost Principles in 200 CFR part 200 subpart E, which require that an institution spend a reasonable and necessary portion of its HEERF grant funds in order to successfully implement these two required grant activities.
Many institutions have inquired about whether they are permitted to package HEERF grants, and ED finally addressed that question in this most recent guidance, prohibiting the practice. ED justifies its decision based on two factors: first, that HEERF emergency grants are not financial aid, and second, that HEERF grant funds may not be used to advertise or recruit students by promoting the opportunity to receive a student emergency financial aid grant.
ED specifies that the following previously-issued guidance applies in whole or in part to HEERF III, unless superseded by the text of the American Rescue Plan:
Institutions will be required to post the Quarterly Institutional Public Reporting Form and Quarterly Student Public Reporting Form for HEERF III funds to their websites by the tenth day following the end of each calendar quarter. In a footnote, ED acknowledges that because it never affirmatively established HEERF II reporting requirements, it is extending the deadline by which institutions must submit retroactive reports for HEERF II to the end of the second calendar quarter, which is June 30, 2021. HEERF III funds will also be subject to the annual reporting requirement in early 2022. Watch Today's News for more information on HEERF III reporting requirements.
As was the case in the last round of funding, institutions that received an allocation from HEERF II do not need to apply or take any other action to receive HEERF III funding for that portion of their HEERF III funds. Instead, the institution's Project Director identified on the most current Grant Award Notification (GAN) will automatically receive an email indicating a supplemental award has been made, and the drawdown of funds will constitute the institution's acceptance of the HEERF III terms and conditions.
ED also confirms that institutions have one year from the date their most recent grant obligation was processed by ED to spend all of their HEERF funds, including funds from prior rounds of funding from HEERF I and HEERF II. So, institutions receiving HEERF III funding in May 2021 will have until May 2022 to spend their funding from HEERF I, II, and III. The exact date will appear in Box 6 of institutions' GANs. ED also reminds institutions of the availability of No Cost Extensions (NCE) and expresses its intent to be “very flexible” in granting initial NCEs.
Stay tuned to Today's News for updated AskRegs questions and be sure to register for NASFAA's HEERF III webinar on Friday, May 21 at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Publication Date: 5/11/2021