Good News in 2021 Grants for K-12 and College Students in Need

The early months of 2021 bode well for K-12 and college students seeking grant aid from the federal government. The new administration has stepped forward along with states, schools, and colleges to help those most in need during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Updates to Grants from Federal and State Governments

Some of latest news from the U.S. Department of Education is the expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for low-income students. As part of the President Joseph Biden’s efforts to help the economic difficulties for pursuing postsecondary education during the COVID-19 pandemic, this temporary extension is aimed at helping students in need with food necessities and reflects some of the priorities of the new administration.

Recently the administration also provided an additional $4 billion in emergency relief to state governors to help protect education for all ages during the ongoing COVID crises. The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) provides funding to help reopen schools and addressing learning loss, especially for low-income families. This program links with part of the previously passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) (CARES) from 2020, that allocated over $300 million for school grants. GEER also extends upon the December 2020 Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) that designated another $300 million in grants to states to develop new initiatives in learning for K-12 and postsecondary education. California just announced on March 5, 2021 that Expanded Learning Opportunities Grants will provide $4.6 billion to schools for more instructional time, including summers, and efforts to close learning gaps through tutoring. North Carolina has developed a partnership with Duke Energy Foundation to provide over $800,000 in grants to support K-12 programs geared toward reading and STEM.

Colleges and Grants

Colleges around the nation are now receiving the next disbursement of federal emergency financial aid grants to help support students with extra financial burdens. This support originated in December 2020 when Congress and the Trump administration approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which designated $22 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II (HEERF II). About $20 billion is to fund public and non-profit colleges, with part of the grants in the form of direct student aid for those financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. An important difference from the CARES Act is that students do not have to be consider eligible under the usual Title IV section of the Higher Education Act—for example, having a valid Social Security number, a high school diploma, or GED. Instead, students gain access to funding based on need, and students can use the grant to pay for any cost related to attendance or for emergency situations. Hence, both the selection process and use of aid has been adjusted to meet the current health and economic crises.

The Grant Process and College Students

In 2021, college students will still need apply for aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but they can appeal for more aid by conveying their family’s economic challenges, such as loss of job or medical costs. In addition to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, students can still apply for a Pell Grant, the long-standing need-based aid for low-income students. These grants have also been increased with the recent legislation, but can vary per institution. For example, Columbia University provides grants in the range of $500 to 2,000 while grants from California State University, Sacramento, range from $100 to $850. Also, a revised formula from December 2020 will be applied to Pell Grant applicants whereby students coming from families who earn up to 175 percent above the federal poverty line will qualify for the highest grant level: almost $6,500. To potentially be rewarded all forms of grants, students should visit a particular college’s financial aid or COVID websites.

Good News for Undergraduate College Students in Need

Since February 2021, undergraduate students who have qualified for the most financial need at such campuses as Cal Poly Pomona and the University of Madison-Wisconsin have had automatic emergency grants issued to them. The award at the UW-Madison is $1,000; at Cal Poly it’s $500. Wright State University also announced on March 5 that it plans to distribute over $5 million in emergency federal aid to students who are enrolled at least half time in Spring semester 2021. Federal and state governments, K-12 Schools, and colleges are taking the lead to help students in need.

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