The U.S. Department of Education last week announced additional benefits, outreach, flexibilities, and guidance to assist students, federal student aid applicants, and institutions of higher educations.

The announcement detailed ongoing relief from the COVID-19 emergency and new provisions in the American Rescue Plan recently signed by President Biden’

The Department issued guidance telling grantees how to calculate and charge “lost revenue” to their HEERF awards. The new guidance reflects a change in the Department’s prior position, which previously only allowed funds received under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA), to be used for costs incurred on or after Dec. 27, 2020.

“The comprehensive and clear guidance on the use of HEERF grants will enable colleges and universities to better address the academic needs of their students, as well as ensure the safety and well-being of all members of the campus community,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “One of my first priorities is to ensure that institutions of higher education have the financial support and resources needed to support their students and mitigate the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 emergency. Our latest actions will help campuses address those challenges.”

The updated guidance will:

  • Emphasize support for students with exceptional needs and allow financial aid grants for dual enrollment, continuing education, non-degree seeking, or non-credit students, as well as to a broad range of students with exceptional needs, such as certain refugees or persons granted asylum.
  • Empower institutions to use their grants to discharge student debts and support student services.
  • Expand flexibilities for student and institution needs brought on by the pandemic: Colleges will be permitted to use HEERF grant funds to reimburse themselves for institutional lost revenue and expenses incurred as far back as Mar. 13, 2020, the start of the national emergency.

The Department also informed postsecondary institutions they can conduct direct outreach to students who may meet temporarily expanded eligibility criteria for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Department’s office of Federal Student Aid will soon begin its own direct outreach to students to tell them about the temporary program changes and how to apply.

“Many students have had their postsecondary careers turned upside down as they manage their schoolwork while also protecting themselves from this virus. On top of that, many college students have also had to deal with food insecurity,” said Cardona. “This direct outreach from the Department is an attempt to get every eligible college student to apply for these benefits so that they no longer have to worry about their next meal. We hope every eligible student takes advantage of these benefits while continuing to focus on their studies.”

Because state SNAP agencies administer the SNAP program, process applications, and determine eligibility, students should contact their local SNAP offices to learn how to apply or to ask other questions.

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