House Approves COVID-19 Relief Bill With Nearly $40 Billion for Higher Ed
March 01, 2021

​The House voted 219-212 in the early hours of Saturday morning—mostly along party lines—to approve a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that includes nearly $40 billion in aid for students and institutions.

ACE and a number of higher education associations sent a letter of support for the bill before the vote,  noting that it represented the “largest federal effort so far to address the crippling impact of the pandemic on colleges and universities.” However, as they wrote, the relief still falls short of the at least $97 billion that is needed to address the financial impact of COVID-19 and economic downturn on campuses around the country.

“We urge the Senate to quickly take up and approve this legislation,” ACE President Ted Mitchell reiterated in a statement Saturday. “But we also continue to stress that additional higher education relief funding should be included to meet the full needs of colleges and universities facing precipitous declines in revenues and soaring new expenses and millions of students and families struggling to cope with lost jobs or reduced wages.”

The package also includes $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, a $400 per week jobless benefit supplement and an extension of programs making millions more Americans eligible for unemployment insurance. It also puts $20 billion into COVID-19 vaccines, $50 billion into testing, and $350 billion into state, local, and tribal government relief. The plan to hike federal minimum wage to $15 an hour was dropped from the final bill for procedural reasons.

Another provision dropped for procedural reasons would have left it up to colleges and universities to decide which students are eligible for the emergency grants. However, the higher education associations believe that the Biden administration has the authority to make sure all students—including undocumented and international students in need—are eligible.

“We understand that the language raised technical issues related to the reconciliation process and had to be removed, but we appreciate the clear expression of support for those students,” the groups wrote in their letter. “We strongly believe that the Department of Education already has sufficient authority to ensure that all students harmed by the pandemic are able to receive the help they need.

One policy change that did make it into the final bill would amend the current 90/10 rule to close an existing loophole that didn’t categorize federal programs for active duty military and veterans’ education benefits as federal funding. The higher education association community has long supported closing this loophole in order to ensure that the rule works as intended.

Democrats have moved to pass the legislation on their own through a process called budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority in the Senate—a move necessitated by the even 50-50 party split in that chamber. The Senate will begin considering the measure this week.  

dotEDU ​Episode 37: A Conversation With Congressman Bobby Scott

Hosts Jon Fansmith, Sarah Spreitzer, and Mushtaq Gunja talk with House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) about the recent past, present, and future of higher education legislation under his committee’s purview. ​

Listen now