Officials to use all CARES Act funding for student emergency aid

Media Credit: File Photo by Gabrielle Rhoads | Staff Photographer

Provost Brian Blake said all students at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels who incurred expenses related to the disruption of campus operations during the pandemic are eligible to apply for the funding.

Updated: May 27, 2020 at 7:39 p.m.

Officials say they will accept roughly $9.1 million in funding allocated to GW through a multi-trillion dollar federal coronavirus relief package and disburse the funds entirely to students.

The CARES Act, which was signed into law in late March, stipulates that at least 50 percent of GW’s funding must be used as emergency aid for students but allows the University to use the remaining funds to cover any institutional costs related to the virus. Officials said in an email to the GW community that students who have demonstrated the highest levels of financial need will automatically be eligible for the funding, while other students who are Title-IV eligible can apply online.

“We are not going to limit our support of students just to what the guidance provides,” Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Mark Diaz said in an interview Wednesday. “We’ve made a decision that 100 percent of the appropriated funding will be directed to students. Every single penny.”

Provost Brian Blake said in an interview that all students at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels who are Title IV-eligible who incurred expenses related to the disruption of campus operations during the pandemic are eligible for the funding, which officials will distribute by sending checks to recipients.

Blake said students whose expected family contribution was $5,600 or less based on their 2019-20 Free Application for Federal Student Aid – which qualifies undergraduates to receive a Pell Grant – will be contacted directly on how to accept a one-time grant of $1,868. He said students whose expected family contribution exceeded $5,600 this past academic year can apply for a grant of $500 starting June 8 at 9 a.m. EDT.

The Internal Revenue Service announced earlier this month that any relief aid awarded to students will be nontaxable.

The CARES Act appropriated roughly $14.2 billion for colleges and universities based on their enrollments of Pell Grant recipients and student populations.

Diaz said the guidance about how officials can use the funds have been “loose,” which has led to internal deliberations about whether to accept the funding between top officials and the Board of Trustees. Administrators said earlier this month they were still grappling with how to use the funds amid concerns about ambiguity in the law and related federal guidance.

“It has made it very difficult for us to figure out exactly how to operationalize it, and even before operationalizing it, what do we do with it in terms of applying it appropriately,” Diaz said.

The U.S. Department of Education had previously stated that the funding cannot be distributed to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients or other undocumented students.

An updated statement released Thursday clarified that the department’s guidance documents “lack the force and effect of law.” But the department reiterated its position that the grants from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which the CARES Act created, may not be given to undocumented students because of underlying laws that are “legally binding.”

“The department continues to consider the issue of eligibility for HEERF emergency financial aid grants under the CARES Act and intends to take further action shortly,” the department said in the statement.

This post has been updated to correct the following:
Due to misinformation from a source, The Hatchet incorrectly reported that students whose expected family contribution was $5,600 or less would need to apply for grant funding. Officials will contact those students directly about how to accept the funds. We regret this error.

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