In response to the economic challenges faced by college students and institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020.
This comprehensive guide will help college students and administrators understand the provisions, eligibility criteria, and application process for the CARES Act and its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) program.
Introduction to the CARES act
Congress enacted the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) on March 27th, 2020, to help individuals and businesses cope with the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The government recently passed a bill that provides an economic relief of $2.2 trillion to Americans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This allows for quick and direct aid to those in need, helping them in such uncertain times.
$14 billion was allocated to the Office of Postsecondary Education as the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).
Eligibility Criteria for College Students
To qualify for financial assistance under the CARES Act, college students must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Be enrolled in a degree or certificate program at an eligible institution.
- Have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
- Not owe an overpayment on any federal student aid or have a federal student loan in default.
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, such as a permanent resident or another eligible status.
Types of Financial Assistance
The CARES Act provides various types of financial assistance for college students, including:
Emergency Financial Aid Grants
These grants are designed to help students cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to the pandemic, such as housing, food, technology, and healthcare. The amount awarded is determined by each institution based on the student’s financial need and the availability of funds.
Additional Support for Federal Work-Study Programs
The CARES Act allows institutions to continue paying students participating in federal work-study programs if their employment is disrupted due to the pandemic.
Flexibility for Federal Student Loans
Borrowers of federal student loans can benefit from temporary relief measures, including suspended loan payments, waived interest, and halted collections on defaulted loans.
How to Apply for CARES Act Funding
To apply for financial assistance under the CARES Act, follow these steps:
- Contact your institution’s financial aid office to inquire about available funding and application procedures.
- Complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if you have not already done so. This form is used to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid, including CARES Act funding.
- Submit any additional documentation or forms your institution requires to verify your eligibility and financial need.
- Monitor your email and the institution’s financial aid portal for updates on your application status and award notifications.
Reporting and Oversight
Institutions receiving CARES Act funds are required to report on the use of those funds, including the amount of emergency financial aid grants awarded to students and how the funds were distributed. This reporting ensures transparency and accountability in the allocation of federal funds.
Understanding the HEERF Program
The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) is a key component of the CARES Act, providing financial support to institutions and students.
HEERF has undergone several iterations since its inception:
Established under the CARES Act, HEERF I allocated funds to colleges and universities to address immediate financial needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 50% of the funds received by each institution were required to be used for emergency financial aid grants to students.
Introduced by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) in December 2020, HEERF II provided additional funding for higher education institutions and expanded the allowable use of funds, including support for remote learning infrastructure and COVID-19 testing.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 further extended the HEERF program, creating HEERF III. This iteration placed a greater emphasis on addressing the needs of students from low-income backgrounds, prioritizing financial assistance for those with exceptional financial need.
The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III) is crucial in sustaining higher education institutions and supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Established by the American Rescue Plan (ARP), Public Law 117-2, and signed into law on March 11, 2021, HEERF III allocates a substantial $39.6 billion to colleges and universities to ensure uninterrupted learning.
The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III) plays a crucial role in sustaining higher education institutions and supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Established by the American Rescue Plan (ARP), Public Law 117-2, and signed into law on March 11, 2021, HEERF III allocates a substantial $39.6 billion to colleges and universities to ensure uninterrupted learning.
ARP Funds in Conjunction with CRRSAA and CARES Act
HEERF III is only one component of the federal government’s multi-faceted approach to bolstering higher education amid the ongoing health crisis. The American Rescue Plan’s funds supplement those provided by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA), Public Law 116-260, and the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Public Law 116-136. Collectively, these emergency funding sources inject a staggering $76.2 billion into the higher education sector.
The Importance of HEERF III in Higher Education Support
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted educational institutions worldwide. HEERF III, as part of a broader effort to stabilize the higher education sector, addresses the financial challenges facing students and institutions. This vital funding ensures that colleges and universities can continue providing essential resources and services, such as online learning and mental health support, throughout these unprecedented times.
How HEERF III Funds Are Distributed
The distribution of HEERF III funds is based on a formula considering various factors, including the number of full-time students, the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, and the institution’s overall financial need. This targeted allocation ensures that the funds are directed to those institutions and student populations most in need of support.
Utilizing HEERF III Funds to Mitigate COVID-19’s Impact on Higher Education
HEERF III funds are intended to help higher education institutions address various needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds can be used for implementing safety protocols, transitioning to remote learning, retaining staff, and providing emergency financial aid to students facing economic hardships.
The Lasting Impact of HEERF III and Other Emergency Funds on Higher Education
The combined efforts of the American Rescue Plan, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security Act have contributed $76.2 billion to support higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III, in particular, has played an instrumental role in helping institutions navigate the challenges presented by the crisis. By providing much-needed financial assistance, HEERF III ensures that learning can continue unabated and students can receive the support they need to succeed during these trying times.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can international students receive CARES Act funding?
A: Generally, international students are not eligible for CARES Act funding. However, institutions may have alternative financial assistance programs to support international students during the pandemic. Contact your institution’s financial aid office for more information.
Q: How long does it take to receive CARES Act funding after applying?
A: The disbursement timeline for CARES Act funding depends on the institution and the availability of funds. Some institutions may process and distribute funds within a few weeks, while others may take longer. Contact your institution’s financial aid office for specific information on their disbursement process.
Q: Are CARES Act emergency financial aid grants considered taxable income?
A: No, emergency financial aid grants provided under the CARES Act are not considered taxable income for recipients.
Q: Can CARES Act funding be used to pay tuition and fees?
A: The primary purpose of CARES Act emergency financial aid grants is to help students cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to the pandemic. While institutions have discretion in determining how to allocate funds, the focus should be on addressing immediate financial needs, such as housing, food, technology, and healthcare.
The CARES Act and its subsequent iterations, including the HEERF program, have provided crucial financial support to college students and higher education institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. By understanding the eligibility criteria, types of assistance available, and application process, college students can access the necessary resources to navigate these challenging times. For more information, contact your institution’s financial aid office and monitor updates on federal relief programs.