Today the U.S. Department of Education announced new grant programs and guidance to support college students basic needs across the country.

$198 Million In Funding For Students And Institutions

Starting next week, the Department of Education will begin accepting applications for grant funding that will be awarded in the late spring of 2022. Grant funds can be used for addressing students basic needs, supporting enrollment and re-enrollment, institutional debt forgiveness, program expansion that leads to in demand jobs, and practices to monitor and suppress Covid-19. Community colleges and rural institutions “that serve a high percentage of low-income students and have experienced enrollment declines since the start of the pandemic” will receive priority for funding.

Connecting Students To Federal Basic Needs Support 

The Department of Education also distributed a Dear Colleague letter to institutions of higher education encouraging them to utilize FAFSA data to notify students of their potential eligibility for a variety of federal basic needs support programs and benefits. These programs and benefits include:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Affordable Connectivity Program. Students can receive up to $30 a month off their internet bill. To receive this benefit, a student will need to provide documentation that the student received a Federal Pell Grant for the current award year. This program is the revised long-term version of Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program that was included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act.
  • Child Tax Credit. Families received half of this funding as a $300 per month payment for children under 6 and $250 for child ages 6-17. Families must claim the other half on their 2022 tax returns. Families receive $3,600 for each child under age 6 and up to $3,000 for each child ages 6 through 17.
  • Health Insurance Enrollment through the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace.
  • Economic Impact Payment/Recovery Rebate Credit: Students who did not receive an Economic Impact Payment under the American Rescue Plan, and on whose behalf as a dependent a payment was not made, could be eligible for a $1,400 per-person Recovery Rebate Credit when they file taxes in 2022.

During the 2021 legislative session, LeadMN worked to pass legislation requiring Minnesota State colleges and universities to utilize FAFSA data to connect potentially eligible students with SNAP. We applaud the Departments of Educations clear guidance encouraging colleges to take this critical step to support students basic needs. Connecting students to available federal and state benefits that reduce basic needs insecurity is key to ensuring they have the support they need to complete their degrees.

New Guidance on HEERF Funding For Basic Needs Support

Additional guidance was issued by the Department on how colleges could spend Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to support students basic needs. Also included are examples that colleges around the country have implemented with their HEERF funds: 

“Bergen Community College in New Jersey used HEERF to subsidize 25 slots at their on-campus Child Development Center to remove financial barriers to students’ education and support student persistence and success.”

“North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University used HEERF aid to establish a housing scholarship for students to afford on-campus housing.”

“The City University of New York System used HEERF grant funds to expand its mental health services by offering 24/7 access to counselors through a crisis text line at a time when increasing numbers of students at CUNY and across the country are struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Tarleton State University in Texas used HEERF institutional funding to build out their food pantries at both their Stephenville and Fort Worth campuses. Tarleton used HEERF to purchase refrigerators and freezers which facilitated expanded offerings from only non-perishables to fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and proteins.”

Basic Needs Grants Awarded

Lastly the Department of Education announced $5 million in grant funds to six Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) community colleges in MD, CA, TX, and NJ. These colleges will create programs to expand access to basic needs like food, housing, and healthcare.