The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, was the economic stimulus bill produced at the end of March. $14 billion dollars was allotted to the Office of Postsecondary Education as the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, or HEERF(1). Boise State University has received a total of $10,937,516. More than 50% of those funds ($5,468,758) has been spent on direct emergency funds to students. For Spring of the 2019-2020 school year students were eligible for these funds if they were Title IV eligible as defined in Section 484 of the Higher Education Act of 1965; including, Satisfactory Academic Progress, enrolled in a ground-based program as of March 13, 2020, and had an Expected Family Income (EFC) between 0 – $10,000(2). Boise State University was able to provide more than 5,400 students with emergency aid in the Spring of 2020.
Additional eligibility requirements
Additional eligibility requirements were added for students to receive funds in the Summer and Fall of 2020. This additional criteria is listed below:
- Currently enrolled in the fall or summer term as a degree-seeking undergraduate or graduate student not enrolled in an exclusively online program (on March 13, 2020).
- At least half time enrollment in Boise State credits (UGRD = 6; GRAD = 5)
- Title IV eligible as determined by the FAFSA
- Meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress
- Have an official expected family contribution (EFC) between $0 – $10,000 or completed the secondary application by June 9 or September 9
- Not receiving a senior citizen or faculty/staff/dependent waiver
- Incurred unanticipated COVID-19 related expenses including, for example, additional childcare, technology or moving expenses
Most recently, Congress has produced another bipartisan COVID-19 relief package and omnibus spending bill. The bill was introduced on December 21st, 2020. The results of this package and bill have created some exciting gains when it comes to supporting students in higher education as $22.7 billion has been allocated to higher education institutions and students(3). More specifically, $2.5 billion of that funding will go to historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, minority serving institutions, and other institutions with substantial unmet need(4). Furthermore, President Biden has just released his American Rescue plan which allocates an additional $35 billion for higher education. His plan states that students may receive up to an additional $1,700 in financial assistance from their college(5). Despite these exciting gains, it is also clear how much work there is left to do as students are struggling more than ever before to meet their basic needs. This relief package only begins to address the needs of students as even when COVID-19 is behind us, students will still be struggling to pay for and complete their degrees. Systemic change must follow these actions.
This most recent stimulus bill includes investments in flexible emergency aid, a more equitable funding formula, improved access to food assistance to support students, and financial aid reforms. All of these changes, which will positively impact students at Boise State University, are further explained below:
Flexible emergency aid
Students will now have access to more emergency aid grants. At least $6 billion of the package must go directly to students, however, this amount may be larger as each institution has the ability to assess the needs of their students and distribute funds appropriately(3). Boise State will be delivering a minimum of $5.4 million to students as a result of this aid. Aid is not limited to Pell grant recipients or students who are eligible for federal financial aid.
More equitable funding formula
A new formula has been developed which now prioritizes funding community colleges and therefore providing support to students who have the greatest need. Changes to the formula will benefit students from lower incomes and those that are only enrolled part time. This is an improvement over the formula that was used in the CARES Act.
Improved access to food assistance for students
Several changes being made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will improve students’ ability to afford fresh, nutritious food. First, there will be a 15% increase in the benefit amount for all recipients. Second, exemptions to the 20 hour work requirement have been created. Students falling under one of the exemptions below will now qualify for SNAP Benefits:
- Students who are eligible to participate in a federal work study program. Students no longer have to receive work study, they just have to be eligible.
- Students with an Expected Family Income (EFC) of $0 on their FAFSA are now eligible, regardless of their employment status. This EFC is expected to improve eligibility for an estimated $6 million students(3).
Financial aid reforms
There are a myriad of changes that are being made to the financial aid system. A few of the most notable changes are as follows:
- Students with prior drug convictions will now be eligible to apply for federal financial aid.
- A simplified FAFSA application process for unaccompanied homeless students and former foster youth. These students will no longer have to recertify their independent status annually.
- Changes to the factors that determine Pell Grant eligibility. Eligibility will no longer rely on EFC. Instead, it will be based on a student’s family size and adjusted gross income compared to federal poverty levels. This change also means students will know whether they qualify for a Pell Grant prior to completing the FAFSA.
- Subsidized high-speed internet for Pell eligible students.
- A new food and housing allowance built into the financial aid formula. This will provide students living at home with the ability to contribute to household expenses or support themselves(3).
More information regarding the timeline of the distribution of the most recent stimulus funds will be coming soon, hopefully within the next month. All students should keep a lookout in their email inboxes for communication from the Financial Aid and Scholarships team. Please pass along this newsletter to students and/or faculty staff members who are interested in learning more about the Consolidated Appropriations Act and how it impacts Boise State University.