Author:Michael Stratford                 Published: 4/20/2020            POLITICO

EDUCATION

There’s still incomplete guidance from the department for colleges on how they will specifically be allowed to distribute the money to students.

Betsy DeVos
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The Education Department says just $6 million of $6.28 billion in emergency aid for college students has reached campuses so far, and officials are trading accusations with college leaders over the slow pace of a rollout that’s left students waiting for help.

The money is intended to directly assist students for help with needs like housing or food, under the $2 trillion economic rescue package signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27. Weeks later, there’s still incomplete guidance from the department for colleges on how they will specifically be allowed to distribute the money to students, even as billions from other programs in the rescue legislation like small business loans and rebate checks are in recipients’ hands.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced on April 9 that she was moving to “immediately distribute” the $6.28 billion. It was the first tranche of the nearly $31 billion in overall education aid included in the stimulus law that the Trump administration announced was available.

The Education Department is placing blame on colleges, accusing college leaders of “dragging their feet” in submitting applications for money allocated in the bill. Only 27 percent of the more than 5,000 colleges eligible for the program had submitted the paperwork needed to access the funding by Friday, according to the department.

But the department has yet to fully distribute millions of dollars even to those colleges that have applied for the assistance. And higher education groups say the program has been beset by bureaucratic hiccups, confusion over the rules and a lack of guidance from the government.

Department officials are working on a policy that explains in more detail how the higher education stimulus money can be used, but it hasn’t been released publicly yet. Colleges, which apply for the aid on behalf of their students, are reluctant to dole out the money before they know the full rules that will govern the program.

Under the stimulus law, colleges are supposed to receive billions in federal funding, based on the number of students on their campus, to distribute to students in emergency cash grants. The money is aimed at helping students cover expenses stemming from the coronavirus, such as food, housing, health care and child care costs, technology and course materials.

“It’s tragic that at a time when students are struggling to make ends meet, too many highly capable and intelligent leaders of higher ed institutions are dragging their feet and claiming it’s because there’s some lack of clarity in the law,” Morabito said in a statement. “The law is clear, as was the Secretary—give this money to students to support their continued learning and be able to purchase technology, instructional material, food, housing and health care.”