To provide ongoing relief from the COVID-19 emergency and implement provisions in the American Rescue Plan recently signed by President Biden, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) is announcing additional benefits, outreach, flexibilities, and guidance to assist students, federal student aid applicants, and institutions of higher educations.
New assistance to institutions regarding use of COVID-19 relief funds
Today, the Department is issuing guidance regarding the use of funds received under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grant program. The new HEERF guidance reflects a change in the Department’s prior position, which previously only allowed funds received under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA), to be used for costs incurred on or after Dec. 27, 2020, the date of the enactment of the CRRSAA.
“The comprehensive and clear guidance on the use of HEERF grants will enable colleges and universities to better address the academic needs of their students, as well as ensure the safety and well-being of all members of the campus community,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “One of my first priorities is to ensure that institutions of higher education have the financial support and resources needed to support their students and mitigate the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 emergency. Our latest actions will help campuses address those challenges.”
The Department is also supplementing this change of interpretation with additional guidance about how grantees may calculate and charge “lost revenue” to their HEERF awards, as well as the release of additional Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for the Public and Private Nonprofit Institution Grants and Proprietary Institution Grant Funds for Students.
The updated guidance will:
- Emphasize support for students with exceptional needs: The pandemic affects all students and has exacerbated the inequities within our educational system. This guidance makes it clear colleges can make financial aid grants to dual enrollment, continuing education, non-degree seeking, or non-credit students, as well as to a broad range of students with exceptional needs, such as certain refugees or persons granted asylum.
- Empower institutions to use their grants to discharge student debts and support student services: In addition to the grants made directly to students, this guidance illustrates opportunities for institutions to use their own grants to reimburse themselves for lost revenue while supporting students during the pandemic, including discharging unpaid institutional balances so students can resume their studies and subsidizing childcare services for student parents.
- Expand flexibilities for student and institution needs brought on by the pandemic: To address a myriad of academic and safety concerns, the new guidance provides college leaders with flexibility on the use of funds. Colleges will be permitted to use HEERF grant funds to reimburse themselves for institutional lost revenue and expenses incurred as far back as Mar. 13, 2020, the start of the national emergency.
Direct outreach to students eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits
Today, the Department informed postsecondary institutions they can conduct direct outreach to students who may meet temporarily expanded eligibility criteria for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Department’s office of Federal Student Aid will soon begin its own direct outreach to students to tell them about the temporary program changes and how to apply.
These efforts—in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture—align with President Biden’s Jan. 22 Executive Order directing all federal agencies to address the economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 emergency.
“Many students have had their postsecondary careers turned upside down as they manage their schoolwork while also protecting themselves from this virus. On top of that, many college students have also had to deal with food insecurity,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “This direct outreach from the Department is an attempt to get every eligible college student to apply for these benefits so that they no longer have to worry about their next meal. We hope every eligible student takes advantage of these benefits while continuing to focus on their studies.”
Under regular SNAP eligibility requirements, students enrolled at least half-time in an institution of higher education are typically ineligible for SNAP benefits unless they meet certain specific exemptions. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 temporarily expands SNAP eligibility to include students who either:
- Are eligible to participate in state or federally financed work study during the regular academic year, as determined by the institution of higher education; or
- Have an expected family contribution (EFC) of 0 in the current academic year. This includes students who are eligible for a maximum Pell Grant
Beginning Jan. 16, 2021, students who meet one of the two criteria outlined above may receive SNAP benefits if they meet all other financial and non-financial SNAP eligibility criteria. The new, temporary exemptions will be in effect until 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted. More information can be found on the SNAP benefits for students webpage and Q&A on student eligibility.
Because state SNAP agencies administer the SNAP program, process applications, and determine eligibility, students should contact their local SNAP offices to learn how to apply or to ask other questions.