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Ed Department Appeals Calif. Emergency Grant Case

August 17, 2020

The Education Department gave notice to a federal appeals court it is challenging a June federal injunction that barred the department from prohibiting undocumented immigrants and many other college students in California from receiving CARES Act emergency grants.

The department will file the challenge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, according to the brief notice. The California Community College system had filed suit accusing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of violating Congress’s intent in the CARES Act coronavirus bill when she ruled that only those who qualify for federal student aid could get the grants to help pay for essentials like food, housing and computers during the pandemic.

DeVos’s interpretation of the bill excluded noncitizens and others who do not qualify for student aid, including those with poor grades and borrowers who have defaulted on their student loans. Congressional Democrats have said they wanted those students to get the help.

In June, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rodgers agreed and granted the preliminary injunction sought by the community colleges, which prevents the department from enforcing its interim rule.

“This is not unexpected and our colleges will continue to distribute emergency assistance as provided by the district court decision. We remain confident in the strength of the case brought by the California attorney general on behalf of our students,” said Paul Feist, spokesman for the community colleges.

An Education Department spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment. But Justice Department attorneys representing the Education Department had pointed to references in other parts of the coronavirus relief package to the Higher Education Act, the federal law that among other things guides federal student aid. The department argued that meant Congress intended for the grants to go only to students who are eligible for student aid.

The department had also noted that a federal judge, in a separate appeal brought by the Washington State attorney general’s office, only granted an injunction to cover students who are U.S. citizens. The judge said there was a reasonable argument to be made on both sides of whether undocumented immigrants are eligible for the aid. The department said the split decision gave them confidence they would win the appeal in the California case.

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