Student News

Congress Proposes Help for Students in Response to Coronavirus

Is financial help on the way for thousands of college students?

Kathryn Knight Randolph

March 18, 2020

Congress Proposes Help for Students in Response to Coronavirus
Last week, hundreds of college campuses closed their physical doors to students in response to the spreading Coronavirus. Some began offering classes exclusively online; others shut down all aspects of college learning and life. As you can imagine, this has left thousands of students in a very vulnerable, confusing place. How am I going to eat? Where am I going to live? How am I going to learn online when I don’t have reliable Internet access? I have special needs; how will they be met when I’m not in my regular learning environment? What happens to my financial aid? Will I be reimbursed for this semester? Is my study abroad for next fall going to be cancelled? Looking for more COVID-19 student-impact information? Find it here. These are all questions that students, parents and educators have faced in recent days – questions that educators never thought they’d hear and questions that students never even though to ask before the Coronavirus outbreak. But with these questions comes the need for answers – and Congress is currently working on providing most of those answers for students. Last week, the Committee on Education and Labor released a white paper on the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act (H.R. 6275). The Act recognizes all of the above issues – and more, like child care for students with dependents and the implications of social distancing and quarantine for college students. The Act proposes to provide more than $3 billion in grant money for early care and education programs, K – 12 schools and institutions of higher education. The Bill hopes to address a myriad of concerns for students with a focus on technology accessibility and financial aid resources to cover basic needs, like housing and food. Take a look at the details where college students are concerned:

Education Preparedness and Support Grants

First, the Bill would provide $1.2 billion to state governors for school districts or institutions of higher education that require emergency funding as a result of Coronavirus in the USA. Grant money would also be dispersed to these states in order to: • Provide meals for students
• Clean and sanitize educational facilities
• Educate faculty and staff on student and campus safety best practices
• Work with local health departments on response efforts
• Extend mental health services to students
• Issue other support services necessary to maintain operations at colleges

Emergency Financial Aid for Students

The Bill proposes another $1.2 billion in mandatory funding to help college students that require assistance to meet their basic needs, like food, housing, health care, and child care, as a result of college campus closures. Part of this emergency relief would go toward a one-time laptop purchase as well as a reliable Internet connection for students (and homes) that require it. Finally, leftover funds would be used to create or add to existing Emergency Funds at colleges that have been impacted by the Coronavirus.

Students and Institutions of Higher Education

The final component of the Bill would provide greater flexibility for colleges to ensure that students still receive access to their financial aid to alleviate any financial stresses caused by COVID-19. In greater detail, this would exempt students from paying back Pell Grants or student loans that were taken out during this disrupted term, if their particular college temporarily closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. A temporary waiver to “Return to Title IV” rules would be applied toward affected students. There would also be a relaxation of financial- aid rules as it applies to satisfactory academic progress, Pell Grant lifetime eligibility, and subsidized loans, in order “to help [students] focus on what is best for themselves, their family, and their community,” according to the Committee on Education & Labor. Finally, the Bill would provide greater flexibility to international institutions digitally educating American students because of Coronavirus disruptions in that particular country.

Timeline for the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act

As of now, there is no timeline for passing the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act. Congress just passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In sum, this bill would extend unemployment insurance, ensure paid leave for some workers, and provide free Coronavirus testing for those individuals that need it. President Trump has officially signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, according to CNBC. Now, legislators can turn their attention to further Coronavirus relief – with the goal of hopefully helping students through the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act.

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