COVID State of Emergency Ends in May; Federal Pandemic Aid was Key to Supporting Students
February 06, 2023

​The Biden administration announced last week that it will end the COVID-19 national and public health emergencies on May 11. This means federal agencies—including the Department of Education (ED)—will be phasing out a number of flexibilities put in place nearly three years ago, such as the pause on student loan repayments.

According to the White House’s guidance, the administration will implement a final extension of the emergency declarations, and then formally end those declarations on May 11.

This deadline is going to be administratively complex for both campuses and ED while we work to get back to business as usual. The various Title IV COVID-19 flexibilities and waivers do not all end at the same time. For example, flexibilities for withdrawals and transfers of unused Federal Work-Study to the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program will end at the end of the payment period that covers the May 11 date.

As a reminder, the student loan repayment pause began in March 2020 under President Trump and has been operating on short-term extensions since then. It is now scheduled to end June 30. The end of the COVID emergency in May will not change that June date, but it does make it highly unlikely that ED will extend the pause again.

What might impact the date is the pending Supreme Court ruling on the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan, issued in August 2022 and now tied up in legal challenges. Justices are scheduled to hear arguments on the plan, for which more than 16 million borrowers have been approved, when they reconvene at the end of February. If the court strikes the plan down, repayment will restart two months after the decision is handed down OR June 30, whichever comes first.

Additional updates from the end of the national and public health emergencies include:

International students: The end to the national emergency also means changes to flexibilities for F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors, such as the ability for international students on F-1 visas to take the majority of courses online and the ability to telework under a J-1 visa.

Student veterans: Veterans’ benefits are safe should another emergency arise, thanks to legislation signed into law last month. The Student Veteran Emergency Relief Act of 2022 (H.R. 7939) makes permanent important flexibilities provided to the Department of Veterans Affairs during the height of the pandemic and allows veterans to use their GI Bill benefits to participate in a wider number of study abroad programs. It also provides a critical technical correction to provide relief to colleges and universities with flat tuition and fee structures from unnecessary and burdensome enrollment verification processes.

Federal relief dollars critical to our success during COVID: ED released new data last week estimating that more than 18 million students have received direct financial aid under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) since the start of 2021. Over that period, nearly 6 million community college students received direct financial aid, along with more than 450,000 students at historically Black colleges and universities, more than 24,000 students at tribal colleges and universities, and nearly 8 million students at minority serving institutions, such as Hispanic serving institutions.

ED also released a detailed report showing that in 2021 alone, 12.7 million students received direct financial aid grants from HEERF funds, which served as a critical lifeline to these students. Given all the uncertainty over some aspects of COVID emergency relief, HEERF fund is one of the big success stories: It allowed students to stay enrolled, kept staff employed, and ensured colleges and universities remained open during the worst of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Policy Developments

ACE led the higher education association community's efforts to urge Congress and the federal government to address the many challenges students and campuses faced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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