Reps. Axne, Foster to Education Secretary DeVos: Don’t Hold Coronavirus Aid Against College Students

April 8, 2020
Press Release
Midwest Democrats lead letter to Department of Education to demand emergency aid to not count against future assistance

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Rep. Bill Foster (IL-11) led a letter to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to demand clarifications to existing policy to ensure college students can receive emergency aid related to coronavirus (COVID-19) without losing future aid.

Under guidance issued last month by the DOE, higher education institutions are allowed to adjust students’ Cost of Attendance (COA) budget to reflect additional costs incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but only a student-by-student basis. Money raised by alumni groups, for example, could not be used to support students in need.

“In this time of crisis, Iowa’s students need to know that getting the help they need now won’t lead to negative consequences for their academic and financial futures down the road,” said Rep. Axne. “Secretary DeVos should remove this red tape as soon as possible to ensure that our schools, like Drake University, can help their students.”

The letter, which was sent to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, seeks to ensure that guidance is changed to ensure any emergency funds being given to students by institutions through the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act are not used in future calculations of students’ Estimated Financial Assistance (EFA).

“We must remedy this situation in order to ensure our students are able to care for themselves during this COVID-19 pandemic and be able to complete their education,” the members wrote. “It is unfair to punish or hinder assistance from higher education institutions who are seeking avenues to ensure their students are supported now and can complete their education in the near future.”

The letter was also signed by Rep. T.J. Cox (CA-21), Rep. Sharice Davids (KS-03), Rep. Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Rep. Chuy Garcia (IL-04), Rep. John Larson (CT-01), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-13), Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07), Rep. David Scott (GA-13), and Rep. Jennifer Wexton (VA-10).

The requested change has been endorsed by the American Association of Universities and the Iowa Student Personnel Association.

“America’s leading research universities, including the University of Iowa and Iowa State, have been deeply impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and are on the frontlines of delivering care, researching possible cures and treatments, and supporting their communities,” said a representative for the American Association of Universities. “It’s absolutely critical Department of Education moves quickly to make funds available from the CARES Act and provide campuses with as much flexibility as possible for distributing funds to help students.”

“On March 5, 2020, the Department of Education reminded institutions of higher learning of their ability to adjust students’ COA budget on a case-by-case basis. However, the volume of student emergency funding assistance is greater and more immediate than case-by-case review allows, and with haste, we must remedy this situation in order to ensure our students’ self-reliance, so they are able to complete their education,” said Jerry Parker and Sarah Moschenross, President and Past-President of the Iowa Student Personnel Association. “Although most students will not be impacted, there are others that will due to this rule. As past and current president of the Iowa Student Personnel Association, we request the Department of Education remove this rule so that Iowa institutions, including all universities and colleges throughout the country, are able to provide pandemic-related emergency funding assistance to any student in need with no impact to their COA budget until we have recovered fully from this global emergency.”

The CARES Act, which was passed unanimously by both chambers of Congress last month, provides flexibility for campus-based financial aid to issue emergency grants to continue paying students through Federal Work Study.

The CARES Act also required that the Secretary of Education defer all student loan payments, principal, and interest for federally owned student loans through September 30, 2020.

In addition, the legislation provides approximately $31 billion in emergency education funding to students, schools, institutions, and states across the country.

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Secretary DeVos,

We are writing to urge you to issue revised guidance to higher education institutions, to ensure that the Cost of Attendance (COA) budget restrictions do not limit their ability to provide needed emergency funding assistance to students in need during this global pandemic. Due to the ever-changing nature of this pandemic and the needs of our constituents, we are also asking that the Department of Education clarify existing policy regarding “overawards” that occur after a student’s financial aid has been fully disbursed. While certain “overawards,” are allowed up to $300.00, additional guidance is needed for higher education institutions. 

According to the Department of Education’s guidance for higher education institutions, emergency funds given to a student are considered financial assistance – even when they are specifically listed as not for costs relating to tuition, fees, or other direct educational learning expenses. On March 5th, the Department of Education did remind institutions of higher learning that they may adjust students’ COA budget, on a case-by-case basis, to reflect additional costs incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the unpredicted impact of COVID-19 on our nation, it is no longer feasible that schools can review every impacted student on a case-by-case basis.

Since that March 5th announcement, most schools across the country have now temporarily closed or moved courses online causing many students to find new housing and alternative employment. For many students, they have gone from secure housing and gainful employment to losing all that within just a matter of days. If a college or university provides students with essential emergency funding assistance, this rule means that funding counts against students’ Estimated Financial Assistance (EFA). We must remedy this situation in order to ensure our students are able to care for themselves during this COVID-19 pandemic and be able to complete their education.

Our higher education institutions are determined to support their students and ensure no student is without food or shelter during this crisis. We are seeking a revision of this March 5th announcement so that students can accept financial help now. It is unfair to punish or hinder assistance from higher education institutions who are seeking avenues to ensure their students are supported now and can complete their education in the near future.

Sincerely,