Legislative Update: Federal Responses to COVID-19


Legislative Update: Federal Responses to COVID-19

The federal government continued to respond to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) this week. Read below to learn more about the newest stimulus bill, information on K-12 and higher education emergency funding, a new proposal to support students without Internet access and expansion of the Second Chance Pell program. 
Congress Passes New Stimulus Bill
This week a new stimulus bill in response to Coronavirus passed in the House and the Senate, the Paycheck Protection and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266). The $480 billion package will provide funding to the Paycheck Protection program for small business relief, hospitals and Coronavirus testing efforts. Today, President Donald Trump signed this bill into law. This is the fourth Coronavirus stimulus bill, and pandemic response bills are expected to continue in Congress. 
Department Announces Availability of Emergency K-12 Funding 
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced the availability of $13.2 billion in emergency relief funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund under the Education Stabilization Fund- authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This funding can be used to support immediate K-12 education needs as a result of Coronavirus, such as technology, distance learning and long-term planning and will be distributed to the State Education Agency (SEA). Authorized uses include the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Alaska Native Educational Equity, and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act.
90 percent of this funding must be allocated by the SEA to Local Education Agencies (LEAs), in proportion to the amount of Fiscal Year 2019 funds the LEA received under Title I-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Up to 10 percent of the funding can be used by the SEA for emergency needs. After one year, SEAs must return any funds that have not been awarded, to be reallocated by the Secretary. SEAs can apply for ESSER funding until July 1, 2020 by sending a signed Certification and Agreement to ESSERF@ed.gov. Each request will be processed within three business days of receipt. 

  • State allocations for the ESSER Fund can be found here
  • Additional information on the ESSER Fund can be found here
  • The full statement on this funding from the department can be found here

Department Shares Updates on Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund 
Earlier this week, ED released two documents on the disbursement of the $13 billion in the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) authorized through the CARES Act. 50 percent of this funding must be used to directly support students affected by Coronavirus, and the other 50 percent is allocated to allow supporting institutional expenses.

  • Financial aid grants to students: The Frequently Asked Questions document specifies that only students who are eligible for federal aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act are able to receive this funding, specifically students who are eligible to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)  can access the HEERF grants. The Department’s guidance means that some students- such as recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, those who are enrolled in some short-term and non-credit programs, students with certain criminal records and those without a high school diploma-  are not eligible for these financial aid grants. Advance CTE, in partnership with the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), sent a letter to ED with concerns about these exclusions. 
  • Aid to Institutions of Higher Education: The Department released Frequently Asked Questions  about the use of the other 50 percent of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, the institutional portion (HEERF-IHE). In order to be eligible for HEERF-IHE, the institution of higher education must enter into an agreement for the student portion of HEERF.  The CARES Act specifies that institutions can “use the funds received to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.” This legislative language provides sufficient flexibility to allow authorized institutions of higher education to direct HEERF-IHE resources to Career Technical Education (CTE) and adult education programs.
  • Institutional eligibility and allocations for the HEERF Fund can be found here
  • Additional and guidance on both components of HEERF can be found here
  • CARES HEERF-Student certification and agreement can be found here
  • CARES HEERF-IHE certification and agreement can be found here

House Introduces Emergency Funding Bill for Students without Internet Access 
Earlier this week Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020 (H.R. 6563). This bill proposes $2 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund, administered by the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program, for schools and libraries to support the 8.5-12 million K-12 students without Internet access during the Coronavirus pandemic. This funding would support distance learning resources through the E-Rate program, with priority going to student and staff without Internet access or the necessary equipment to access distance learning. Advance CTE, along with over 50 education organizations, is pleased to support this bill.  
Second Chance Pell Program Expands Participation
Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced an expansion of the Second Chance Pell program, which would almost double the amount of schools participating in this pilot program. Originally created in 2015 as part of the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI), Second Chance Pell allows incarcerated students in selected schools to be eligible to use federal Pell Grants.

Advance CTE supports Pell Grant eligibility for all incarcerated individuals, and this is included in our HEA recommendations and priorities for future Coronavirus stimulus legislation.

Meredith Hills, Policy Associate and Samuel Dunietz, Senior Associate for Federal Policy