House Approves 5th Emergency COVID-19 Spending Bill With $100 Billion for Education
May 18, 2020

​House lawmakers on Friday voted 208 to 199—largely along party lines—​to approve a new emergency supplemental spending measure to address the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act provides a historic $3 trillion to help the nation recover, including over $100 billion for education, with about $37 billion set aside for higher education. While Senate Republicans are calling the measure dead on arrival, it does set out a baseline for negotiations on what undoubtedly will be a fifth stimulus package, likely sometime after Memorial Day.

Overall, the legislation is beneficial for college students and institutions. The $100 billion for education includes $90 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund that governors can apply for and distribute, with the largest share—65 percent—going to K-12 schools. Public colleges and universities would receive 30 percent, or approximately $27 billion, of this pot, while 5 percent could be distributed at the state’s discretion. The bill also includes an additional $7 billion for private nonprofit colleges and universities, $1.7 billion for minority-serving institutions and $1.4 billion for institutions with “unmet needs.”

While there is some concern with the distribution mechanism—governors can’t always be trusted to spend the money as Congress intends—it appears after the distribution problems with CARES Act funds, House lawmakers wanted to limit the role of the Department of Education.

Some unreservedly good news in the bill: students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status and international students would be eligible for the education funds, and the legislation would retroactively make these students eligible for the CARES Act relief funds. The bill also would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers who were “economically distressed” at the time of the pandemic and for any borrowers of private loans. It makes nonprofit organizations eligible for the Main Street Lending Program, repeals the public employer exclusion from the paid sick leave and Family and Medical Leave Act tax credit, and excludes all emergency student grants from counting as income for tax and financial aid purposes.

The overall level of funding for research in the bill is disappointing. It includes $4.75 billion for the National Institutes of Health for COVID-19 related research as well as to address issues related to support the shutdown and start-up costs of biomedical research. It also includes $125 million for the National Science Foundation to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and $10 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The higher education community requested $26 billion in supplemental spending on research, an area that is more vital now than ever.

A number of higher education leaders spoke with their House members about signing the bipartisan letter of support for higher education put together by Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Susan Brooks (R-IN). The letter was sent to House leaders in advance of the bill’s introduction. More than 100 representatives signed on to the letter, which ACE endorsed. ACE and 40 other higher education organizations sent a letter to the House Thursday to thank members and express support for the bill.

While the next steps are murky, this legislation no doubt will be an important statement of the House priorities in any subsequent discussions.