NAICU Washington Update

New and Expanded Uses for HEERF Funds Announced

January 21, 2022

The Department of Education announced a series of actions to continue to help students and institutions address the ongoing pandemic.  The Department issued new guidance on the expanded uses of existing Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) funds to address student basic needs that will help them stay in college. The agency also announced that it will award the remaining funds under HEERF to address ongoing needs related to coronavirus.

The new guidance emphasizes that institutional funds can be used to help students in many ways, particularly to meet basic needs, such as food, housing, transportation, child care, health care, mental health care, and academic support. Examples are provided from institutions across the country that have implemented successful efforts in providing such basic needs, so that other institutions have a reference point for best practices. 

The Department is also reminding institutions that they can reach out directly to students to help them connect with local, state and federal assistance programs for additional assistance.  This includes paying staff to reach out directly, creating outreach campaigns, or working with local partners, for example.  Related to this, a “Dear Colleague Letter” will be sent to all public and private, nonprofit institutions explaining that FAFSA data can be used to identify students who might be eligible for and benefit from other public assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to access food, or the Affordable Connectivity Program for internet accessibility. 

Finally, the guidance reminds institutions that they have flexibility to address student needs as they arise, but also encourages institutions to use HEERF funds strategically so they may have a lasting impact. The Department encourages institutions to use HEERF funds as initial investments for high-impact projects, such as expanding digital infrastructure to support technology-enabled learning, or strategic long-term planning for serving student basic needs, that can be continued with outside partnerships once they are established. 

With regard to the disbursement of the remaining HEERF funding, in the coming weeks, the Department will make details available for the following: 
  • Institutions that were otherwise eligible but did not receive funding initially under the institutional or the student portions will be provided a final opportunity for allocations to ensure they can help their campus community.
  • Applications will become available for the $198 million for the Supplemental Support under the American Rescue Plan (SSARP), which will prioritize community colleges and rural institutions of higher education that serve a high percentage of low-income students and have experienced enrollment declines since the onset of the pandemic. Private, nonprofit colleges are included in the rural institution category. 
While this is the last expected distribution of HEERF funds, the Department continues to actively pursue additional flexibilities in the use of existing funds in support of higher education’s response to the continuing pandemic.

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