As the omicron variant continues to hover, students are feeling the negative socio-economic impacts. As part of a plan to protect college students, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced significant relief funds for United States colleges, universities, and struggling students are coming soon.
A January Department of Education press release
explains that $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds will be distributed to community colleges and rural universities to support students’ basic needs. The distribution of funds is set to go to higher education institutions with the greatest need.
“In speaking with students from across the country at all different types of higher education institutions, I have heard consistently that the pandemic has exacerbated challenges in meeting students’ basic needs, from housing to food to transportation and more,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
Cardona added, “We cannot let this be a barrier to student success, particularly for students who have contended with these issues for far too long...”
Colleges and universities with unmet needs related to the COVID pandemic may begin requesting a share of the Supplemental Support under American Rescue Plan (SSARP) funds at the end of January.
According to the Department of Education
, priority will go to “...community colleges and rural institutions of higher education (IHEs) that serve a high percentage of low-income students...”
How College Students Can Expect Help from the American Rescue Plan
Funds will be distributed to grant-approved colleges and universities this spring. There are four ways to use funds; three may provide more immediate relief to struggling college students. These include:
Strategies for addressing students’ basic needs.
This would include campus programs designed to expand access to food, housing, transportation, childcare, mental health, and health care. Northjersey.com
reports First Lady Dr. Jill Biden praised a Begen Community College program at a press event announcing the Covid relief funds. Citing the Paramus, New Jersey community college is a notable example of student support.
Students that have completed the FAFSA can also expect to hear about federal programs they qualify for. These programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
and the Affordable Connectivity Program
. These programs address food and internet insecurities. If eligible, look to hear about connections to these services via your college in the future.
Forgiveness of institutional debts.
This form of relief addresses unpaid institutional balances for students. The Link News
, references Brookdale Community College in Lincroft New Jersey where 1,600 students who have had existing student-account debts, totaling more than $2 million dollars, forgiven.
Support for student’s continued enrollment and re-enrollment.
The Department of Education references colleges programs that directly connect with students that stopped attending college or didn’t re-enroll. Support may include assistance with registration, connections to student support offices, academic support, and emergency aid distribution
The fourth approved use of SSARP program funds could be used for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and supplies.
A college or university approved for SSARP funds will choose how best to use the funds provided. This may be one or a combination of the approved uses above.
How will I know if my college has the American Rescue Plan funds for students?
If you are a struggling college student, connect with your college’s financial aid and student support service office. If you are enrolled in a community college, your odds of having access to additional ARP funds are higher.
Fill out or renew your FAFSA. This is important as it is directedly referenced within the suggested SSARP program plan. If your college chooses to use SSARP funds for emergency aid distribution, they may also use FAFSA information.
Stay connected to all communication channels at your college. College and university administrators will submit their request for SSARP funds the last week of January, according to the Department of Education press release
. Keep in mind, grant funds will not be distributed to the approved colleges until spring.
Most colleges announce grant or financial aid opportunities, such as the SSARP program through email first. These emails could come from a variety of offices. Some universities have email accounts that are CARES or HEERF specific.
The first of emergency funds for students were announced in April 2020
, with several Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)
packages and announcements released later. A Biden-Harris Fact Sheet from the U.S. Department of Education
mentions that half of the $40 billion in ARP funds awarded to higher education institutions “...went directly to students in the form of financial aid...”