Colleges and universities across the country are working to rapidly respond to the challenges posed by the spread of respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus, COVID-19. On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency for the United States—on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization publicly characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic, and on March 13 the U.S. government declared it a national emergency.
The federal government is working to respond to the evolving situation on the ground and has taken several actions to support campus communities. APLU staff are closely monitoring the federal response, and working with congressional leaders, agency officials, and the higher education community to understand the needs of our members and develop policy solutions.
The EPA has a up-to-date COVID-19 resource page here. The page outlines research, grants and extensions of contracts, and resources for communities related to COVID-19. Here are a few links that may be helpful to you:
On March 6, 2020, Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 6074) which provided $8.3 billion to boost the U.S. public health response to the virus.
On March 13, 2020, Senate Democrats introduced the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act (S. 3489), which includes funding for support grants to institutions impacted by COVID-19, as well as emergency financial aid for students in need of food, housing, and childcare. The legislation is sponsored by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Ranking Member, Patty Murray (D-WA), and cosponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced companion legislation (H.R. 6275), which includes technical corrections and additional language that would provide the Secretary of Education discretion to exclude semesters not completed due to a qualifying emergency from a student’s Pell duration limits.
The House passed a second supplemental funding package on March 14, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), the details of which were negotiated with the White House. Senate leadership took up and passed the bill on March 18, 2020, and the President signed the bill into law that day. The multi-billion dollar bill will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for many workers, establish free testing for the virus, and provide a range of supports that would support those impacted by the spread of COVID-19.
On March 25, 2020, the Senate released negotiated bill language for a third supplemental spending package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748). The Senate unanimously passed the CARES Act, and the $2 trillion; the House passed the bill on March 27, 2020 and the President signed the bill into law that afternoon. APLU released a statement noting that the bill progressively improved throughout the process and that we appreciate the critical support for students and universities. The level of funding, however, is not commensurate with the immense financial challenges facing public institutions. APLU’s Office of Governmental Affairs has developed a detailed analysis of the measure. In our analysis, we outline important provisions and funding to APLU institutions.
Amidst Senate negotiations on the CARES Act, House Democrats released their own supplemental spending draft bill, which outlines many key priorities that Democrats may try to address in a fourth supplemental spending package.
On March 21, 2020, the Senate reached agreement on a Phase 3.5 deal for an additional $484 billion, primarily to replenish funds for the Paycheck Protection Program run through the Small Business Administration. The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266) also includes $75B for health systems and $25B to increase testing and contact tracing capabilities. The bill passed the House on April 23, and was signed into law on April 24, 2020.
On May 12, 2020, House Democrats introduced the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800). The massive $3+ trillion package would provide relief for state and local governments, healthcare workers, K-12 and institutions of higher education, and many other sectors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 14, 2020, Chairwoman Nita Lowey introduced a manager's amendment to the bill that includes several changes relevant to colleges and universities. The House passed the bill on May 15. While the legislation may put some additional pressure on the Senate to act on another funding bill, Senate Republicans made clear this legislation will not be taken up in that chamber.
APLU staff are working closely with our members and partner associations to advocate for resources and supports needed by universities as they to continue to respond to the spread of the virus.
On March 9, OMB issued guidance to federal agencies to allow flexibility to support continued research and support for emergency responses related to COVID-19. It also reminded agencies of its existing flexibility to issue exceptions to relieve short term administrative, financial management, and audit requirements on federal research grants on a case-by-case basis.
OMB issued further guidance to federal agencies on March 19 to an expanded scope of recipients impacted by the loss of operational capacity and increased costs due to the COVID-19 crisis. Administrative relief efforts include flexibility with application deadlines, no-cost extensions on expiring awards, allowability of costs not normally chargeable to awards, among other provisions. Exceptions in the memo are time limited and will be reassessed by OMB within 90 days.
NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) hosted a town hall meeting on March 20 and released a message to the research community stating: "We know that progress on funded research may slow and in some cases even stop due to necessary telework and lack of access to facilities and labs, the closing of public schools and daycare facilities for our children, the transition of teaching activities to on-line classes, and other family obligations. SMD understands this potential outcome of the current epidemic response and will work with the research community and its institutions to mitigate any impacts and to make plans, when possible, for a way forward."
On April 21, NEH released guidance for emergency relief grants funded through the CARES Act. The NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations program will assist institutions and organizations working in the humanities that have been affected by the coronavirus. Applicants are eligible for up to $300,000 in funding.
The agency's FAQs for applicants and grantees impacted by the coronavirus is available here.
NIH issued several policy updates and produced a list of Frequently Asked Questions. Many research disruption issues are handled on a case-by-case basis. Researchers should contact their individual program managers.
NOAA provided guidance in March, 2020 on administrative relief for recipients and applicants of federal financial assistance directly impacted by COVID-19. The notice follows the OMB guidance and answers questions specific to NOAA related activities. Since this release, no additional information has been posted. See website here for additional detail.
NSF also issued several guidance documents. Researchers should contact their program managers with specific questions.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is strongly committed to the safety and security of all of its implementing partners. The ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 has had a significant impact in countries around the world, which has resulted in new travel restrictions and policies. Given the unpredictable and ongoing nature of the outbreak, USAID is committed to providing additional information to its partners as needed. USAID has provided guidance on its website, to be used as general reference for its implementing partners.
On March 15, the U.S. Census Bureau announced plans to ensure college students are counted in the 2020 census. The Bureau states that “students should be counted at their college residence, even if they are temporarily elsewhere due to the virus” because their school address is where they live the majority of the year. Key highlights include allowing students who chose to self-respond using an Individual Census Questionnaire to change to the eResponse methodology; maintaining the residential criteria and counting students whose colleges and universities have temporarily closed as part of the process; and delaying early nonresponse follow up from April 9 to April 23. In an updated memo, with respect to the Group Quarters process, the Bureau states that they will be contacting all colleges and universities that initially chose the in-person and drop-off/pick-up methods or in-person interviews to instead choose either the eResponse or the Group Quarters Enumeration Paper Response Data Collection options. An accurate count of college and university students is an important part of the 2020 Census and will be critical to college and university communities.
Additional Census Bureau Resources:
USDA NIFA Deadline Extensions
Due to the disruptions arising from the national response to COVID-19, NIFA is extending certain application deadlines. NIFA will continue to monitor the situation and post updates to this guidance on their website. Furthermore, NIFA has also extended the submission deadline for the 2021 Plan of Work for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (AREERA) capacity funded projects and programs from April 1st to May 1st.
NIFA’s goal is to provide applicant institutions additional time as they work through any operational challenges within their institutions arising from COVID-19. Even with increased flexibilities for applicants, NIFA still recommends applicants submit their applications as soon as possible.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is aware that many in the research community have been impacted by COVID-19 and is taking action to provide greater flexibility to the research community in this challenging time.
On March 5, 2020, amidst rising concern about the spread of COVID-19 on campuses, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released initial guidance providing flexibilities to institutions with students who experience disruptions to their studies. The guidance addresses several situations that may arise due to the spread of the virus, and how institutions can respond while maintaining compliance with federal regulations. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) released a summary of the guidance and is also providing resources and support for financial aid officers who are facing issues not yet addressed by ED. On April 3, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) updated this guidance to continue providing flexibility for online programs and the disbursal of student aid into June, at minimum. ED further indicated that officials could continue to extend this flexibility if needed.
ED has released a range of additional resources in response to the spread of the virus, including guidance on FERPA and COVID-19; guidance from the Office of Civil Rights at ED on the accessibility of online learning; and a letter to accrediting agencies granting them additional flexibilities due to the spread of COVID-19.
Relatedly, on March 13, 2020, President Trump announced the administration would suspend interest on student loans held by the federal government. Officials at ED have said that the policy will automatically apply to all borrowers with federal direct loans, federally held Family Federal Education Loans and federally held Perkins Loans. On March 20, 2020, Secretary DeVos announced that the office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is executing his announcement, stating in a press release that all borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to zero percent for a period of at least 60 days. In addition, she said each borrower will have the option to suspend their payments for at least two months to allow them greater flexibility during the national emergency.
On April 9, 2020, ED released the institutional allocations for funding through the Higher Education Stabilization fund included in Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act. ED officials announced that institutions could begin applying for the 50 percent of funds dedicated to students for emergency financial aid grants right away. On April 21, 2020, officials followed up to release the remaining 50 percent of funds for institutions. Officials also published FAQ documents on both the student aid and the institutional portion of the funds. Finally, on April 30, 2020, officials released the funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, other Minority Serving Institutions, and institutions funded through the Strengthening Institutions Program. Additional guidance on the funds, application processes, and data reporting are still forthcoming.
On March 17, 2020, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced new steps to expand telehealth services during the spread of COVID-19. First, the Centers for Medicare & and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded Medicare coverage for telehealth visits. Additionally, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it will waive any potential HIPAA penalties for good faith uses of telehealth services during this emergency. Finally, officials announced that the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) will provide flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive beneficiary cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
On March 24, 2020, Secretary Azar called upon the nation’s Governors to take immediate action to loosen state regulations that present obstacles to delivering these expanded telehealth services during the COVID-19 emergency. In particular, the letter calls upon governors to provide reciprocity of health care licenses across state lines and ease some restrictions on telehealth services.
This need is particularly acute for colleges and universities working to serve the mental health needs of college students during this difficult time, particularly those that live out of state. These changes would allow college counseling centers to continue to meet the mental health needs of students who live out of state.
To better understand the national landscape, the Federation of State Medical Boards is tracking states that have waived in-state licensure requirements for telehealth services in response to COVID-19. The AAMC has also published a chart detailing temporary medical licensing measures taken by states in response to the spread of the virus.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued guidance for international students on F and M nonimmigrant visas. The Department’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) original guidance on January 29 focused on initial and active international students who were exhibiting signs of COVID-19 both outside and within the United States.
SEVP updated its guidance on March 9, providing flexibility to institutions to offer online courses or instruction at a different physical location to international students in the event of campus closure. Institutions are required to notify SEVP within 10 business days of decisions. On March 12, SEVP issued the following clarifying statement: “SEVP is committed to remaining flexible in allowing schools to make temporary procedural adaptations so nonimmigrant students can continue to make normal forward progress in their program of study. They can temporarily engage in distance-learning, either from within the U.S. or outside the country, in light of COVID-19. SEVP will provide updated guidance as the scope and length of this situation becomes more clear.”
On March 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suspended routine in-person services until at least May 3 to help slow the spread of COVID-19. USCIS said staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. However, USCIS will provide emergency services for limited situations. To schedule an emergency appointment contact the USCIS Contact Center.
ICE has released detailed FAQs for SEVP stakeholders. The guidance is routinely updated to reflect additional areas of concern.
On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law by President Trump, expanding access to paid leave for many American workers. As employers and employees seek to better understand the impact of FFCRA, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has been working to provide further details on the benefits provided through the legislation.
One of the most significant impacts of FFCRA on public universities is the legislation’s exclusion of public entities from being able to claim the paid leave tax credit designed to help employers recoup the costs of providing these benefits. APLU has joined NACUBO and others in the higher education community in a letter calling on Congressional leadership to expand eligibility of the tax credit to include public institutions.
The U.S. Department of State (State) guidance, which was released earlier this year and focused primarily on China, advises initial J-1 international students who are currently outside of the U.S. and sponsors to: Delay their program start date (beyond at least April 1, 2020) and issue a new initial Form DS-2019, “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status” and delay their program start date until the applicant has been outside of China (and is not exhibiting symptoms of 2019-nCoV) for at least 14 days. Active students are allowed to keep their SEVIS record active until they return to the U.S. to continue their program or shorten their SEVIS records for authorized program withdrawal upon request.
For students currently in the U.S., State strongly advises extending programs for Chinese students but notes it does not have additional funding to support food and housing requirements. Of particular interest, the guidance cautions international students to be mindful of the period of admission granted on their I94 forms. Although most are granted duration of status, State encourages students to review the USCIS website (see here and here) in the event the period of admission will expire while an exchange visitor must remain in the United States.
Additionally, the State Department strongly recommends institutions follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance on study abroad programs. CDC urges students and institutions consider postponing or canceling study abroad programs and requesting current participants return to their home country while U.S. students studying abroad return home.
On March 18, State issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory, urging all citizens to avoid international travel.
After Congress passed, and the President Signed into law S. 3503 on March 21, 2020, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provided updated guidance for student veterans assuring that they would be able to continue accessing their GI Bill benefits even if their courses have moved online. APLU and partner associations wrote to both the House and Senate committee leadership in support of the bills.
Additionally, on April 28, 2020 the President signed into law the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 (H.R. 6322), which provides the VA with additional flexibilities to ensure that other student veteran benefits, including Veterans work-study, continue to be made available to students during this national emergency.
The U.S. Geological Survey is currently undertaking maximum telework while continuing to undertake work, including maintaining mission essential and critical functions. Please view the following links for more information:
Released: Wednesday, April 15, 2020