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News & Media

Washington Update

December 16, 2020

Phase IV COVID-19 Relief and FY2021 Appropriations Update
Last Friday, President Trump signed a one-week extension of government funding. According to Politico, House and Senate appropriators are close to a $1.4 trillion FY2021 omnibus deal, which could be fully unveiled as early as today. If lawmakers are unable to pass the bill before December 18, they must pass a new continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.

Politico also reports congressional leaders are on the brink a coronavirus relief package totaling nearly $900 billion, with the hope of attaching it to the must-pass omnibus deal. On Monday evening, a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers released details of their negotiated COVID-19 emergency relief package. The group decided on two separate legislative texts—one containing $160 billion for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses, schools and universities, and a larger $748 billion package (see summary) which includes $82 billion for education. Congressional Democrats have indicated that they see any smaller emergency funding package passed now as a down payment on further emergency relief next year.

The $748 billion package contains an anticipated $82 billion for education, with $20 billion set aside for higher education. These funds would be distributed through a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) structure, similar to the CARES Act but with some key differences. About $17 billion (or 85 percent) of HEERF would be provided to public and private non-profit institutions (for-profit institutions would not be eligible for funds) through a formula. The remaining 15 percent of higher education funds would be divided with $2 billion going to HBCUs and MSIs and $1 billion for a competitive grant program for higher education institutions within the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). Additionally, the Governors Education Emergency Relief (GEER) fund would receive an additional $7.5 billion, and the remaining $54 billion is allocated for K-12 education.

The bill also allocates $6.25 billion for State Broadband Deployment and Broadband Connectivity grants to help bridge the digital divide and ensure affordable internet access during the pandemic. While these funds would be awarded directly to states, institutions may have opportunities to partner with states and receive subgrants to carry out related projects.

The APLU Office of Governmental Affairs is deeply engaged in FY2021 appropriations and COVID-19 relief processes and will develop analyses of the bills if agreements are reached. Below is a summary of the HEERF within the bipartisan proposal.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)
The bipartisan proposal includes some key changes to the HEERF (beginning on page 507), including modifications to the funding distribution formula. First, three-quarters of the funding would be awarded based on the number of Pell students at an institution, while one-quarter would be based on overall student enrollment. Further, after significant disagreement in the higher education community regarding whether to continue allocating funds using a full-time equivalent (FTE) student measure or moving to student headcount, the compromise bill would split the difference, with half of each portion allocated based on an FTE measure and half based on student headcount. Specifically, the funds would be distributed as follows:

  • 37.5% based on FTE Pell recipients
  • 12.5% based on overall FTE students
  • 37.5% based on headcount Pell recipients
  • 12.5% based on overall headcount of students

Further, the bill would require institutions to provide at least the same amount of funding in emergency financial aid grants to students as was required under the CARES Act. One notable change is that student grants could be used for any component of a student’s cost of attendance, which would likely include tuition. Finally, additional language added to the bill may avoid some of the restrictions imposed by Secretary DeVos on which students are eligible for grants.

Finally, student loan borrowers with federally held student loan debt would continue to have their loan payments and interest accrual paused through April 1, 2021.

APLU Submits Comments on Section 117 NOI
APLU submitted comments in response to the Department of Education’s Notice of Interpretation (NOI) on “The Department's Enforcement Authority for Failure to Adequately Report Under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965.” Published last month, the NOI ties compliance failures to colleges' eligibility to participate in the Title IV student financial aid programs, and also states the Department has subpoena authority under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA).

In the letter, APLU disagrees with the Department’s assertion that it has authority to link Title IV funds with Section 117 compliance. The letter also urges the Department to use the formal rulemaking process, with notice and comment, to promulgate clear guidance and appropriate compliance with Section 117 for institutions of higher education.

APLU also joined a higher education community letter, led by the American Council on Education, with similar themes to the APLU letter and reaffirms the higher education community’s commitment to working with the Department to support institutional compliance with foreign gift reporting and contract information required under Section 117.

Congress Passes NDAA; President Trump Threatens Veto
The House and Senate passed the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report last week. The $741 billion bill authorizes FY2021 appropriations and sets forth policies for Department of Defense (DOD) programs and activities.

The conference report contains several research security related provisions including instructions to federal research agencies to bring clarity to researchers by harmonizing funding disclosure reporting and encourage more robust dialogue with DoD by requiring the Department to designate an official liaison to work on academic security issues. APLU’s analysis of the conference report highlights these provisions.

President Trump has threatened to veto the bill. If necessary, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) intends to override a veto despite strong opposition from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Senate Republicans are divided on the issue.
  • Council on Governmental Affairs

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