Washington Watch: Support in the face of COVID-19

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As Congress and the Trump administration work to develop legislation that addresses the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is simultaneously striving to reflect the needs of its member colleges to lawmakers.  

The House currently is working with the administration on a supplemental appropriations bill, H.R. 6021, for the current fiscal year (FY 2020) that does not include direct support for community colleges or their students. However, the bill would help some low-income students and their families through changes to the SNAP, school lunch and maternal health programs. The overall situation remains extremely fluid.

Our concerns

The bill is only the first of what is certain to be several legislative efforts to help individuals and communities cope with the impact of COVID-19. As they are considered, AACC is encouraging Congress to provide direct financial assistance to help college students affected by COVID-19. Lawmakers could award funds to institutions based on the number of low-income students they serve, which would well reflect the community college student population. Funding should emphasize providing students with access to online education, including computer costs (currently covered under Title IV) and broadband access. In addition, colleges themselves need assistance to make the rapid conversion to transform programs to online learning platforms.  

Colleges also need more flexibility to administer student aid programs given the abrupt changes in the delivery of the programs. AACC is especially concerned how requirements pertaining to returning student aid funds could affect students who can’t attend class because of COVID-19, including actions their colleges have taken to stop the potential spread of the virus. Standards related to those students’ academic progress are also a potential problem. In addition, AACC is asking the education secretary to waive institutional reporting deadlines.

It is important to keep in mind that federal agencies themselves may face challenges in providing services.  

Let us know

Understanding the tremendous pressures under which campuses are operating, AACC wants to hear from its member colleges about their challenges in working with federal programs in the current environment. In addition, let us know of any funding needs that your campus, and particularly your students, are facing.  

When the country was in a recession more than a decade ago, Congress approved massive stimulus legislation that included significant funding for a variety of programs that benefited community colleges and their students, including state fiscal stabilization funds as well as a large Pell Grant increase. Although the current situation is radically different, that action shows that Congress knows the value of higher education to the country and is willing to substantially support it. This may be another occasion.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.