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Washington Update

Impasse over Phase IV Coronavirus Relief Bill
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Republicans introduced their Phase IV COVID-19 relief package, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. APLU developed a detailed analysis of the HEALS Act. Congressional leaders of both parties are now negotiating with each other and senior administration officials on a bipartisan Phase IV coronavirus relief package, but so far have not reached agreement on main pillars of a potential deal. Negotiators have set a target deadline of week’s end to complete a new relief package.

Of particular interest to APLU members, the $1 trillion Senate Republican measure would provide much-needed relief funding to institutions of higher education through a $29 billion Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), extend liability protections to colleges and universities, and offer $10 billion in research relief funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The White House has signaled it is open to a deal without liability protections.

On Monday, APLU, the Association of American Universities, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Council on Education submitted a letter to congressional leadership, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows requesting critical supplemental funding of $26 billion for federal research agencies to provide cost extensions for federally funded research halted and disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the final Phase IV relief package. The associations expressed support for the $15.5 billion included in the HEALS Act funding for the National Institutes of Health, but note that additional relief funds are essential for the ongoing research supported by the other federal science agencies, as that research continues to face disruptions.

In June and July, the associations hosted four targeted House and Senate briefings outlining the research community’s $26 billion relief request for federal agencies impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. APLU also created a document that includes recorded presentations, slide decks, and other research relief resources.

Upon release of the HEALS Act, APLU President Peter McPherson released a statement expressing appreciation for higher education relief funding and liability protections included in the bill while noting the need for additional support as the legislative process moves forward.

Associations Urge Relief Extension for Student Loan Borrowers
APLU and partner associations sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urging Congress to extend the grace period for student borrowers entering repayment by an additional six months and to expand temporary relief provisions for federal student loan borrowers enacted in the CARES Act until September 2021 or until unemployment falls below 8 percent for three consecutive months. The letter cites the ongoing pandemic and struggling economy as catalysts for the request. The current provisions are set to expire on September 30.

DHS Releases Fall Guidance on International Students
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released new guidance on international students for the fall semester. The guidance is based on the directive issued in March when campuses were abruptly forced to shut down due to COVID-19. The updated guidance prevents new or initial students from entering the United States if their courses are 100 percent online. The directive does specify that active or continuing students will be allowed to remain in the United States even if they engage fully in online coursework. Further, DHS will permit students to stay in the U.S. if an institution switches to a hybrid program or to fully online instruction over the course of the fall semester.

APLU and over 40 associations and organizations submitted a letter to DHS seeking additional clarification on the Department’s July 15 guidance, which stated that “if initial students have not arrived in the United States, they should remain in their home country.” The letter urges DHS to provide assurances that all students with valid visas will be able to enter the country and requests further instructions on how international students will be impacted by the hybrid model; OPT eligibility for students outside of the U.S; and Student Exchange Visitor transfer-in students currently overseas.

DHS Publishes Memo Reducing DACA Benefits
Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf published a memo on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program entitled “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children.” The memo acknowledges the June Supreme Court decision that ruled the administration has the authority to rescind DACA but the decision to do so in 2017 was “arbitrary and capricious” and thus violated the Administrative Procedures Act. As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the agency fully rescinded the 2017 memo. APLU President McPherson issued a statement on the Court’s ruling, urging lawmakers to immediately codify DACA protections into law.

NIH Issues Guidance on Protecting Biomedical Research
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released new guidance on “Protecting U.S. Biomedical Intellectual Innovation.” The guidance aligns with principles announced by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy this past June and addresses actions that NIH, institutions and researchers can follow to protect U.S. biomedical intellectual innovation. Additionally, the guidance covers definitions of inappropriate foreign influence; requirements for disclosure of other support and conflicts of interest; and examples of what to disclose to NIH about senior/key personnel on applications and awards. The directive also details NIH and applicant/institution responsibilities and provides extensive resources on protecting biomedical research.

Yet Secretary Wolf still maintains the “DACA policy, at a minimum, presents serious policy concerns that may warrant its full rescission….and at the same time, I have concluded that fully rescinding the policy would be a significant administration decision that warrants additional careful consideration.” Upon further review, the agency has decided to implement the following policy changes effective immediately:

  • Reject all initial requests for DACA and associated applications for Employment Authorization Documents;
  • Reject new and pending requests for advanced parole absent exceptional circumstances; and,
  • Limit the period of renewed deferred action granted pursuant to the DACA policy after the issuance of this memorandum to one year.
  • Council on Governmental Affairs

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