Stimulus Money Coming Soon, DeVos Says

April 9, 2020
 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave colleges and universities some assurance they will soon get their share of the coronavirus relief package, telling reporters the department is working to make available more information on the release of the money in two weeks.

"The department, at the secretary's urging, is working to make funds available as quickly as possible," an Education Department news release said.

DeVos also announced the department is immediately releasing $6 billion contained in the package to institutions to pay for emergency grants to students.

However, DeVos left up in the air a key question institutions are anxious to have answered: How can they use their share of the package?

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package set aside $14 billion for higher education, with half going to help institutions with the cost of dealing with the epidemic. The other half will go to emergency grants for students who need help with costs like computers for online learning, food, housing and transportation.

But institutions have been anxious to know if they can use their share of the money to reimburse what they’ve already spent to help students or on other coronavirus-related costs as virtually all have shifted to online learning.

“It is critical for the department to provide campuses with as much flexibility as possible for distributing these funds on campus, both for emergency grants to students and to help cover institutional refunds, expenses and other lost revenues,” Ted Mitchell, the American Council on Education's president, wrote to DeVos last week on behalf of other higher education associations and groups.

During a call with reporters, DeVos said the department is still mulling those details.

"At the end of the day, [do] we wish the money [for institutions] was coming out now? You bet. But the department is doing the best it can," said Terry Hartle, ACE's senior vice president for government and public affair​s.

DeVos also was vague about possible requirements on how institutions dole out the emergency grants. But she said the department wants the money to first go to “the most disadvantaged with the greatest needs for support.”

She declined to say when the department will issue the much-anticipated and controversial Title IX rule, which will change how institutions handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment. College leaders and Democratic lawmakers have urged DeVos to hold off on issuing the rule at a time when institutions are busy dealing with the pandemic.

“We are sensitive to the situation,” DeVos said. “But we also have to acknowledge that Title IX investigations continue to happen.”

Higher education groups did not have an immediate reaction to DeVos’s remarks on the stimulus funding. They have been frustrated that the department hasn’t been able to say when the money would be available. A Republican Senate education committee aide said the measure only recently passed and characterized the complaints as "whining."

Mitchell in his letter urged DeVos to get the money to campuses quickly. “This crisis is causing massive disruption to students, institutional operations and institutional finances. On some campuses, it is creating an existential threat, potentially resulting in closures … I fear this funding will be for naught for many institutions unless the department can act very quickly to make these funds available,” the letter said.

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