Department of Education’s CARES Act Interim Final Rule Gets Scrutiny in the Courts
June 19, 2020

The Department of Education’s interim final rule saying that only students eligible to receive Title IV financial aid and enrolled in Title IV-eligible programs of study may receive support under the terms of the last COVID-19 emergency spending bill was published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, and is now in effect.

But two court decisions handed down over the past week already have started to chip away at the rule, which unnecessarily impedes a significant number of students who likely require assistance from receiving emergency aid—including undocumented and international students.

On Wednesday, the judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District Court of California granted a preliminary injunction sought by the California Community College System, which prevents ED from enforcing the interim rule. That follows a decision last Friday in Washington state, where a federal district court judge issued another preliminary injunction prohibiting the department from enforcing the rule. Both injunctions are limited: the California ruling only applies to California community colleges, and the Washington ruling only applies to colleges and universities in that state. They do not stop the rule from going into effect nationally.

The department said in a statement that it will appeal both rulings. However, as ACE President Ted Mitchell said in a statement yesterday, instead of filing appeals, the department should immediately change its wrongheaded policy to make it clear that schools are permitted to use the funding to help any student struggling to pay for housing, food, childcare, or other expenses in the wake of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a new survey from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has found that many institutions have already disbursed the emergency student relief grants they received from the CARES Act. But it’s not too late to give institutions maximum flexibility to ensure that the remaining grant money goes to any student who needs it. And given that a fifth COVID-19 emergency spending bill is expected later this summer, the distribution provisions in that bill must be crystal clear, and ACE and others in the higher education community are working to ensure that all needy students are covered.

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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