Washington Watch: Good news on HEERF extension

U.S. Education Department (Photo: AACC)

Community college officials across the country who have wondered if they could count on receiving a one-year, no-cost extension for their Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) can breathe a little easier. Education Under Secretary James Kvaal this week said that the U.S. Education Department (ED) will in the next few weeks automatically extend the performance period on all open HEERF grants with more than $1,000 of unspent funds to June 30, 2023.

“This extension will also allow institutions to spend remaining funds to meet institutional and student needs, like mental health challenges that we know have increased during this pandemic,” he said Tuesday during an ED webinar on HEERF issues.

More details about the extensions will come through the Federal Register in the next few weeks, Kvaal said. 

Use of funds

An extension on the use of HEERF funds has been top-of-mind at hundreds of community colleges, in part because of the amount of funds received and because of the lingering impacts of the pandemic, which the HEERF funds are designed to address. The HEERF funds also can be used on the institutional side for disparate purposes, including lost revenues, retiring student debts, providing mental health services or enhancing the delivery of online education to respond to the pandemic. 

Some community colleges have used almost all their allotted funds, while others have not.

Original ED guidance provided in March 2021 stated that ED would be “very flexible” in granting no-cost extensions, and HEERF recipients were encouraged to work with their grant officers on this process. However, communications to campuses about the granting of waivers varied in some cases, in terms of when they should be requested, in what form and more. In recent weeks, some community colleges have received extensions, but ED made no national announcement, making Kvaal’s comments particularly welcome, especially since, unless extended, many HEERF grant funding periods will end late this spring.

HEERF reporting update

On a related issue, the department has released a proposed updated quarterly reporting form for HEERF funds. This is a scaled-back version of the annual report that institutions will have to complete. Although the annual report has been trimmed from the original proposal, it nonetheless will require institutions to provide a considerable amount of data to ED.

About the Author

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