Judge blocks ED’s restrictions for CARES Act funds in Washington state

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A federal judge has temporarily blocked the U.S. Education Department from implementing certain eligibility restrictions on CARES Act emergency student grants in Washington state.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice on Friday granted state Attorney General (AG) Bob Ferguson’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Ferguson last month filed a challenge to the department’s decision in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The same day, Ferguson filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court to immediately block ED’s restrictions on the grants.

“The harm to students that stems from the eligibility restriction is not only the inability to access (the CARES Act) funds; the harm is in the inability to access these emergency funds in a timely manner,” Rice wrote in his ruling. “Absent injunctive relief, students will continue to be denied access to emergency relief funds to which they are likely otherwise entitled.”

The AG office said in a press release that ED’s restriction would exclude thousands of Washington college students who desperately need financial assistance, including adult basic education (ABE) students, some 17,000 Dreamers and students whose academic progress has slipped below a “C” average.

This week’s poll: What stage is your college in disbursing CARES Act emergency student grant funds?

Nearly 52,000 of the state’s 363,000 community and technical college enrollees are ABE students, the majority of which are not eligible for CARES Act funding, according to the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. ABE students account for about 14 percent of community and technical college enrollment in the state.

The California Community College System also last month filed a federal lawsuit against ED over implementing its guidance to distribute CARES Act funds to students.

“The Department of Education ignored the intent of the CARES Act to give local colleges discretion to aid students most affected by the pandemic, and instead has arbitrarily excluded as many as 800,000 community college students,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley.

Meanwhile, ED’s final rule for the CARES Act that doubles down on excluding certain college students could be published as early as Monday in the Federal Register.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.