CARES Act Grants to College Students Have Been Held Up

The CARES Act made provisions to help college students who were affected by COVID-19. However, like many programs that were a part of the stimulus package, these educational grant programs have been plagued with difficulties. As a result, the money has been delayed in reaching those who need it if they have even gotten it at all. Months later, some college students have started to receive the funds although many have not yet been given a penny. Much of the blame can be assigned to the federal government, which has made administration of the program more difficult.

The CARES Act was passed at the end of March in order to immediately distribute trillions of dollars to Americans who were in need. It is not easy to simply give the money to the public because federal guidance is needed for how to administer the programs. In addition, there needs to be a mechanism to distribute the money to aid recipients. Even after the federal government gives the necessary instructions, this is not the last step of the distribution process. Instead, the money is given to the academic institutions that must then distribute the money to the individual recipients. While this is not a process that can be achieved overnight, the thought is that much more progress should have been made at this point.

The Department of Education Changed the Rules During the Process

Initially it seemed that students would get their grant money soon after the money was appropriated by Congress. However, the federal government threw a curveball to academic institutions when it changed the guidance several weeks after the CARES Act was passed. The Department of Education changed the criteria for who was eligible for these grants. This caused academic institutions to have to halt their own process of distributing the money. Most colleges were well underway when it came to setting up the means to give out the money. Not only did they have they stop their efforts, but they also had to either tweak or completely start again in order to comply with the new federal guidance. This severely delayed the distribution of the money to the students, causing difficulty for many students who were facing emergency expenses as the semester was ending.

By June, colleges have now made progress on distributing the money. 94% of institutions who responded to a survey replied that they had given out at least of the grant money. However, some institutions have not distributed any money our of both uncertainty and fear of repercussions from the federal government, which has slapped numerous conditions and restrictions on the distribution of the money.

Academic Institutions Have Been Filing Lawsuits Against the Federal Government

The Department of Education slapped numerous prohibitions when it came to the grant money to reflect some of the Trump Administration's priorities. This has been another factor in some of the delays as several schools have filed lawsuits against the federal government for restrictions on giving money to undocumented students as well as other conditions. Some of these schools do not want to distribute the money until these cases are decided.

California community colleges recently won a victory in this regard. They filed suit in federal court seeking an injunction that would allow them to ignore the government's distribution restrictions. A federal district court granted the injunction. In addition, a federal judge in Washington State allowed schools to give money to some prohibited classes of students, although the judge did not include undocumented students in the ruling. However, this is not the end of these cases as the Department of Education has pledged to appeal the injunctions, further slowing the distribution process.

In the meantime, there are still students in need of the money who have not been able to receive the grants that they need for vital things such as food and housing. Some schools have tried to prioritize the students who are most in need, but there are still issues in getting out the money. Thousands of students across the country are in limbo as they await their payments, if they will even be able to receive them at all. As such, this is yet another CARES Act grant program that was passed with good intentions but was marred by poor implementation, in part due to the federal government's attempt to impose its own priorities. Now, students in need are stuck in the middle.

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