Biden administration to allow undocumented students to receive COVID relief
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The Biden administration said this week that undocumented college students can receive federal funding intended to help pay for expenses like food, housing and child care, reversing a Trump-era policy that barred them from previous rounds of aid.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Tuesday approved a new rule that will allow colleges to distribute tens of billions in coronavirus relief funds to students, regardless of their immigration status.
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"The pandemic didn't discriminate on students," Cardona told reporters. "We know that the final rule will include all students, and we want to make sure that all students have an opportunity to have access to funds to help get them back on track."
The policy change came as the Education Department announced it would begin distributing the $36 billion in federal relief for colleges included in President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The money will be allocated to schools based in large part on the share of students who receive federal Pell Grants.
Under the law, colleges are required to give at least half of their relief money directly to students in the form of emergency financial aid cash grants. That cash can be used by students to cover the costs of food, housing, computers, internet, child care and other essential expenses.
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The final rule replaces a policy installed by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who in April 2020 prohibited colleges from providing pandemic relief to undocumented students, including individuals known as Dreamers who are living in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The rule also disqualified individuals who had a defaulted student loan or a drug conviction, although that aspect was rolled back in January.
There are some 450,000 undocumented students enrolled in the nation's higher-education system, according to one estimate from the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.
Cardona told reporters on Monday the updated rule will apply to all three rounds of stimulus funding, including the two passed when former President Donald Trump was in office.
"What this does is really simplify the definition of a student," Cardona said. "It makes it easier for colleges to administer the program and get the money in the hands of students sooner."
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The Education Department said that the latest round of funding being doled out includes $10 billion for community colleges, more than $2.6 billion for historically Black colleges and universities and $190 million for tribal colleges. About $6 billion has been set aside for other types of minority-serving institutions, the department said.
"These funds are critical to ensuring that all of our nation's students – particularly those disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – have the opportunity to enroll, continue their education, graduate, and pursue their careers," Cardona said in a statement. "With this action, thousands of institutions will be able to provide direct relief to students who need it most, so we can make sure that we not only recover from the pandemic, but also build back even stronger than before."
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