US Department of Education to Provide Additional Assistance for Students & Higher Education Institutions as COVID-19 Relief

US students

The US Department of Education has announced additional aid, flexibility, outreach, and guidance for students, federal student aid applicants, and higher education institutions in order to further assist them amid the pandemic.

According to Erudera.com, the department has decided to release the guidance regarding the use of funds that are 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 December 27, 2020, the date of the enactment of the CRRSAA,” a press release issued by the US Department of Education reads.

The Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said that the guidance on the HEERF grants use would assist colleges and universities to better address the academic needs of their students as well as to be more cautious of the campus community’s well-being and safety.

“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,” Cardona said.

Specifically, the updated guidance will:

  • Highlight support for students with exceptional needs.
  • Empower institutions in order to use their grants to dismiss the student debts and support student services.
  • Expand flexibilities for student and institution needs as a result of the pandemic.

Among others, the department notified the postsecondary institutions that they are able to conduct direct outreach to students who can fulfill the criteria for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Soon, the department’s office of Federal Student Aid will begin its process to directly outreach students in order to inform them about the changes in the temporary program as well as about the application procedure.

“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,” Secretary Cardona said.

He further pointed out that the direct outreach from the department is an effort to make every eligible college student apply for those benefits and reduce their worries about their next meal.

Students who have been enrolled at least half-time in a higher education institution are not eligible for benefits unless the latter meet some exemptions, the SNAP requirements foresee.

The SNAP eligibility has been expanded for a short time by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, to include students who:

  • are eligible to participate in state or federally funded work and study during the academic program or,
  • receive expected family contribution (EFC) of 0 during the academic year.

The temporary exemptions will remain in force until 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is removed.

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