House Dems pitch new $3T relief package

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House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes nearly $90 billion for K-12 and public higher education.

House leaders plan a vote on the sweeping legislation on Friday, but Republicans are cool to the measure, saying they want to see the effect of previous pandemic relief packages before moving on another one. In the Senate, Republican leaders said the bill is dead on arrival, though they did note they would be possibly open to another relief bill later.

The HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) would provide $90 billion in grants to states to support statewide and local funding for elementary and secondary schools and public postsecondary institutions, according to a fact sheet from the House Appropriations Committee. Governors could use the funds for a wide variety of activities, including providing more financial aid to college students for housing, food, technology, healthcare and childcare.

The funds also could cover training and professional development for college and university faculty and staff to use technology and services related to distance education, as well as general expenditures for expenses associated with disruption due to the coronavirus, including lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred and payroll.

Favorable for community colleges

Thirty percent of the $90 billion would be disbursed through formula funding to public higher institutions, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The within-state allocation formula is generally favorable to community colleges, as it disburses funds based on headcount rather than full-time equivalent, said David Baime, AACC’s senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis. The formula is weighed .75 for Pell Grant recipients and .25 for total headcount.

The state funding is tied to a maintenance of effort requirement for state support, Baime noted.

The legislation also would provide $10.2 billion to help alleviate burdens associated with the coronavirus for both colleges and students, with funding for key institutional aid programs, including Strengthening Institutions Programs, predominantly black institutions, Hispanic-serving institutions and others. Governor’s also could use the bill’s elementary and secondary education funds for the Carl D. Perkins Act and the Adult Education Act.

In addition, the measure would provide $2 billion to support worker training. However, it does not include funding for a new training program modeled after the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program, a successful federally funded workforce development effort led by community colleges that was implemented to help spark economic recovery during the Great Recession. Two-year college advocates hoped lawmakers would include such a program in any new relief package.

Including undocumented students

The HEROES Act includes some provisions related to the CARES Act, the previous COVID-19 relief legislation. For example, the bill would overturn the Education Department’s controversial decision to exclude undocumented students from the emergency aid. It would prohibit the department from “imposing any restriction on, or defining, the populations of students who may receive such funds other than a restriction based solely on the student’s enrollment at the institution of higher education.”

In addition, the HEROES Act would extend the student loan relief from the CARES Act for another year, as well as provide a $10,000 student loan cancellation.

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