New guidance from Education Department excludes DACA, international students from COVID-19 federal emergency grants

Following the guidance, USC is revising its policy on who is eligible for the fund.

Update on April 23: In an update Thursday afternoon on its FAQs:Support Funds page, USC stated that The U.S. Department of Education announced on Tuesday, April 21 that it is limiting this funding to students who are eligible to receive federal financial aid and are enrolled in a program that met on-campus prior to the transition to online classes due to COVID-19. If students who are not eligible have already applied for CARES Act funding,USC forwarded their information to the USC Student Basic Needs Emergency Relief Fund staff, who will reach out to students as soon as possible (typically within five days). All currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for the USC Student Basic Needs Emergency Relief Fund. Each student can conrequest up to $750 per semester.

USC is now revising its answer to who is eligible for applying the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund after the Department of Education issued new measures, specifying that funds may only be granted to students who are eligible for federal financial aids.

USC updated its FAQs: Support Funds page on Tuesday afternoon that the university is “currently reviewing new guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education and will share more information soon about how this impacts our students.” Previously, USC stated that all currently enrolled undergraduate students and graduate students, including international students, are eligible to apply for this fund.

This guidance comes from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who released new measures on Tuesday specifying that universities are not to issue relief funds to students who are not eligible for federal financial aid.

“Only students who are or could be eligible to participate in programs under Section 484 in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), may receive emergency financial aid grants,” the guidance said. “If a student has filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), then the student has demonstrated eligibility to participate in programs under Section 484 the HEA. Students who have not filed a FAFSA but who are eligible to file a FAFSA also may receive emergency financial aid grants.”

Among those excluded are undocumented students-including those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children-and international students, according to New York Times.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, independent American adults are issued a $1,200 check as a piece of a larger $2 trillion stimulus package. These adults also receive an additional $500 for each child who lists them as a dependent.

The vast majority of college students, however, are absent from this plan. Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 that are listed as dependents - about 15 million college students and young adults - are not eligible to receive stimulus checks.

DeVos sent a letter on April 9 announcing that more than $6 billion of the $2.2 trillion CARES act will be the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which will be distributed for academic institutions to support their students.

As pointed out in DeVos’ letter, institutions have “significant discretion” in how to award this emergency assistance to students, and each institution may develop its own system and process to allocate the funds.

“The only statutory requirement is that the funds be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus,” she wrote on April 9.

Under this plan, at least 50% of these funds must be reserved to provide emergency grants directly to students to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. This could be the cost of attending school, food, housing, course material or other.

USC was set to receive more than $19.2 million in grants from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a number calculated using a formula based on student enrollment and its number of students who are Pell-eligible, as shown on the U.S. Department of Education’s website. It would then distribute at least $9.6 million to students who are deemed eligible for receiving funds upon applying for the university’s COVID-19 Emergency Assistance fund. Each student applying for the fund could receive up to $3,000. USC is encouraging students to apply no later than May 1.

According to the New York Times article, the CARES Act did not explicitly define which students are eligible and the emergency grants from the CARES Act do not fall under the federal financial aid category. USC also said on its website that “funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund will not impact a student’s financial aid package since CARES Act funding is not categorized as financial aid.”

“The CARES Act makes clear that this taxpayer-funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law,” Angela L. Morabito, a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson said in a statement to the New York Times.

The university moved quickly by comparison to other colleges in crafting a plan for students to apply for funding - releasing it’s guidelines to students just five days after DeVos made her announcement on April 9. However, this federal aid eligibility rule represents one of the most prominent backstops for the university and it’s streamlined efforts to adjust to the pandemic.

Recently, Harvard, with $40 billion endowments, was criticized for being allocated a $9 million relief grant from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Harvard announced Wednesday that it will not accept these funds. Princeton, Yale and Stanford-respectively with $26.1 billion, $30 billion and $27.7 billion- also announced that they will not receive federal funds from the CARES Act.

USC’s endowment size is $5.7 billion. USC has submitted the grant application to the Department of Education, according to Dean of Financial Aid Thomas McWhorter. In a statement to Annenberg Media, USC said, “we desperately need these emergency funds and will drive 100% of them toward supporting our students who are experiencing financial hardships.”

Here is the full university statement from USC:

"USC is grateful for the funds we received from the CARES Act. As one of the largest private research universities in the country, we have 48,500 students - three quarters of whom receive financial assistance. Despite an endowment that is substantially smaller than that of our peers, we have one of the nation’s largest financial aid pools, which exceeds $640 million. In addition, 21% of USC’s undergraduate population are Pell Grant recipients – one of the primary criteria for receiving the CARES Act emergency funds. We desperately need these emergency funds and will drive 100% of them toward supporting our students who are experiencing financial hardships. Our goal is to assist as many students and families as possible in meeting their financial demands during this disruptive time.”

RELATED: USC to distribute at least $9.6 million federal emergency grants to students financially impacted by COVID-19