Congress Passes Hurricane Relief Legislation

October 03, 2017

President Trump has signed legislation that will provide regulatory relief to colleges and universities that felt the impact of recent hurricanes. The Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria Education Relief Act of 2017 was introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and is similar to legislation passed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The bill requires the Department of Education to reallocate excess liquid capital collections to institutions affected by the storms, and waives certain institutional eligibility requirements. For example, the Secretary can waive the requirement for affected institutions to contribute institutional matching funds in order to participate in the Federal Work Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) programs.
The Department released earlier guidance to ease the compliance burden on colleges and universities affected by the hurricanes. The legislation passed by Congress was necessary to enhance the flexibility of the administration of the federal student aid programs, and to allow the redistribution of Federal Work Study funds to be targeted to affected institutions. The Secretary has that redistribution authority only for SEOG funds. 
Also, the Secretary does not have the authority to waive certain statutory requirements related to the student aid programs, and Congress needed to act in order to allow the Department to offer the same flexibility as provided to institutions of higher education affected by prior natural disasters.  
The higher education community, including NAICU, had previously sent a letter to Secretary DeVos seeking a reallocation of SEOG funds.

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