Gov't Relations

Update on Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund

By Tyler Smith, MPHApril 29, 2020

Image: Shutterstock

Here’s what you need to know about accessing and using emergency relief aid.

Following the creation of a nearly $14 billion stabilization fund for institutions of higher education as a component of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Department of Education (DOE) has issued guidance on the use of these funds for institutional and student emergency relief purposes. Based on frequently asked questions about this, PAEA’s Government Relations team has prepared the following analysis for members.

How can PA programs benefit from these relief funds?

Per guidance from the DOE, recipient institutions have significant discretion over the allocation of aid that is not being provided directly to students. Specifically, institutions are permitted to use up to 50 percent of funds received to “cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus, so long as such costs do not include payment to contractors for the provision of pre-enrollment recruitment activities, including marketing and advertising; endowments; or capital outlays associated with facilities related to athletics, sectarian instruction, or religious worship.” As institutional policies regarding the allocation of funds are developed, PAEA strongly encourages programs to be prepared to provide a full accounting of expenses incurred as a result of COVID-19 to ensure that said costs are appropriately considered by institutional leadership.

How is the Department of Education determining funding allocations for institutions?

The CARES Act requires the DOE to distribute funding based on a formula that allocates 75 percent of funds based on full-time Pell grant recipients and 25 percent of funds based on total in-person enrollment. The amount of funding allocated to each institution can be found here.

How will PA students benefit from emergency aid?

While the funding allocation formula for institutions is heavily dependent upon institutional Pell grant recipient enrollment, it is critical to note that neither the CARES Act nor the DOE restricts eligibility to undergraduate students. The DOE has provided wide latitude to institutions in determining how emergency student aid is allocated. As such, it is critical that PA program leadership be similarly prepared to articulate the financial impact of the pandemic on students to ensure the availability of relief.

How will PA students receive aid if they are eligible per my institution’s policies?

Institutions have some degree of flexibility in how to administer student relief funds. The DOE allows institutions to provide aid through checks, electronic transfer payments, debit cards, and payment apps that comply with existing DOE regulations. Any debt balance owed to the institutions may not be subtracted from these funds.

Are there any notable restrictions on student emergency aid relevant to PA programs?

Yes. The DOE has prohibited institutions from awarding emergency aid funds to students — including DACA recipients — who are not U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens.

Is additional relief for PA programs and students being considered by Congress?

Since the enactment of the CARES Act in March, a number of proposals have been introduced in Congress to forgive student loan debt, suspend student loan payments beyond September 30 as authorized in the CARES Act, and bolster investments in health professions education. PAEA’s Government Relations team is conducting regular outreach with leading champions on these key priorities and will continue to monitor future proposals that might emerge.

For additional questions on the administration of relief funds under the CARES Act or other advocacy issues, please contact Tyler Smith at tsmith@PAEAonline.org.

Tyler Smith, MPH

Tyler is the director of government relations at PAEA. He is responsible for PAEA’s grassroots outreach initiatives and advancing the association’s legislative and regulatory priorities.