As Talks on COVID-19 Emergency Bill Falter, Associations Write to Congress on the Needs of Students and Institutions
August 10, 2020

Updated from a story posted Aug. 7.

President Trump signed a series of pandemic-related executive orders Saturday including one on student loan repayment, in an attempt to bypass a congressional stalemate over the next COVID-19 economic relief bill. Amid the uncertainty last week, ACE and other associations sent recommendations to Congress on the best path forward for assistance to students and institutions, among other issues.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, ACE's Terry Hartle stressed the need to get this bill finished as soon as possible.

"A new, comprehensive COVID-19 relief package is needed, and it is needed now. The budgets of all colleges and universities are in a shambles because of the pandemic," he said. "The sad fact is that many colleges are racing toward a financial cliff."

There are technically three bills under discussion in the COVID-19 emergency aid negotiations. The first bill is the HEROES Act written by House Democrats and approved by the full House two months ago. The second is the HEALS Act, which represents the ideas of Senate Republicans and the White House. Finally, the Coronavirus Childcare and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is legislation introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) that reflects Senate Democrats' ideas about education spending in response to the pandemic. A letter ACE sent to Congress Wednesday, signed by more than 70 other associations, asked the negotiators to adopt the best provisions for students and institutions from each bill.

The bills all include emergency aid for students and institutions, but the levels of funding proposed differ greatly. ACE has estimated that institutions have a total of $46.6 billion in increased student financial need and lost revenues, and will spend at least $73.8 billion on new expenditures to reopen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While CCCERA provides a total of $132 billion to meet these needs, the $37 billion provided for higher education in HEROES and the $29 billion provided in HEALS fall far short. ACE and the rest of the higher education community is advocating for the highest amount possible in the final bill.

None of the three bills condition federal aid to students or institutions on the basis of an institution's reopening status.

The letter also urges lawmakers to give institutions maximum flexibility in allocating resources and determining student eligibility, ensure needed funding for minority serving institutions, and exclude limitations on funding based on an institution's endowment.

In other areas, the letter urges lawmakers to give institutions maximum flexibility in allocating resources and determining student eligibility, ensure needed funding for minority serving institutions, and exclude limitations on funding based on an institution's endowment. It also asks for an extension of the loan relief provisions granted in March under the CARES Act, which is set to expire for roughly 40 million Americans on Sept. 30. One of the executive orders signed Saturday would continue the pause on monthly payments and interest for many but not all of these federal student loan borrowers until the end of the year. That action will help but doesn't begin to solve the crisis higher education face, Hartle told Inside Higher Ed.

Other issues the associations address in their letter include:

Access to low-cost loans: ACE and more than 65 other associations sent a letter yesterday in support of changes to the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Federal Reserve's Main Street Lending Program (MSLP) that would give better access to colleges and universities. The HEROES Act would expand PPP to nonprofits of any size and require the Federal Reserve to expand MSLP to nonprofits, including nonprofit private and public higher education institutions. Other provisions would change loan program eligibility requirements, including exempting student workers from the maximum employee threshold.

Research funding: On Monday, ACE joined AAU, AAMC, and APLU in a letter to House and Senate leaders and White House officials requesting they include the associations' recommendations for research relief in the final bill. The letter thanked members of Congress for recognizing the need for research relief in the House HEROES Act and Senate HEALS Act—including $15.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health in the latter—but noted that more is needed to address the interruption of research sponsored by other scientific agencies caused by the pandemic.

Tax provisions: Along with 19 other higher education associations, ACE sent a letter Monday to the leadership of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees requesting that public and private nonprofit colleges and universities be made eligible for the paid sick and family leave refundable tax credit created in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and to make public institutions eligible for the refundable employee retention tax credit created by the CARES Act. In addition, the letter requested that they make public institutions eligible for the safe and healthy workplace tax credit included in the American Workers, Families, and Employers Assistance Act. These are all previously stand-alone bills that have been wrapped into the HEALS Act.

The path forward on a comprehensive relief bill remains unclear, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday they were open to restarting COVID-19 aid talks.

COVID-19 Policy Developments

Learn more about the higher education association effort to urge Congress and the administration to craft a comprehensive response that addresses the challenges students and campuses are facing.

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