UPDATE: March 11, 2021: President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package into law Thursday afternoon.
UPDATE: March 10, 2021: The U.S. House of Representatives approved the changes the U.S. Senate made to the COVID-19 rescue bill, passing it 220-211 on Wednesday. The measure now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature. A White House spokesperson indicated he would sign it on Friday.
UPDATE: March 8, 2021: The U.S. Senate approved the COVID-19 relief package on Saturday with only one major alteration for higher education. The measure closing the loophole to the 90/10 rule would not take effect until the 2023 fiscal year. The legislation will be returned to the House this week for another vote. If it passes, it would head to President Joe Biden's desk for his anticipated signature.
- The U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 27 approved another massive coronavirus rescue package, which would send about $40 billion in direct aid to colleges and universities. The 219-212 vote was mostly along party lines.
- Like previous relief measures, institutions must use a portion of their allocation to provide emergency grants to students disadvantaged by the pandemic.
- The $1.9 trillion bill heads to the Senate, where lawmakers will consider and likely amend it, before sending that version to the House for another vote.
The bill that passed Friday is largely unchanged from Biden's initial proposal, though it added more direct aid for colleges and enabled private nonprofit institutions to receive funding, which the first proposal did not allow. The education portions of the bill were also not substantially altered in House committees.
The new round of relief money will be distributed through the same formula as the last major spending bill. It factors in headcount and full-time equivalent enrollment, enabling colleges with more part-time students to benefit.
Institutions that accept their piece of funding must use it in part to implement "evidence-based practices" to mitigate the virus's spread, as well as conduct outreach to financial aid applicants about the opportunity to have their aid awards adjusted if they experienced new financial hardships.
The U.S. Department of Education has reminded colleges several times of their flexibility to adjust parts of a student's financial aid application to better reflect their circumstances.
The measure alters the 90/10 rule, which bars for-profit institutions from receiving more than 90% of their revenue from Title IV aid. Military education benefits would now count in that calculation, though they haven't historically.
Additionally, states that accept elementary and secondary education relief could not disproportionately cut K-12 or postsecondary spending in fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell urged the Senate to quickly take up the legislation, in an emailed statement to Higher Ed Dive. While the package is "vital and welcome assistance," Mitchell said, ACE has identified "at least $97 billion in critical needs left unaddressed" by the last emergency relief legislation, which was approved in December.
Though Republicans have rejected the bill, deeming its price tag too high, it is being shepherded through Congress using a legislative process known as reconciliation. Lawmakers can use it to pass measures in the Senate, which is narrowly divided, with a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds vote that is typically required.