Top Democrats Criticize DeVos's Handling of Stimulus Aid (Live updates)

May 1, 6 p.m. Top Democrats on key House and Senate education committees accused U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of failing to implement the CARES Act in an array of ways as Congress intended.

A new concern is that the department has decided not to allow college students to use emergency grants provided by last month’s stimulus package for necessities provided by their institutions, according to a letter sent to DeVos from Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, and Representative Rosa DeLauro, the Democratic chairwoman of the House’s education appropriations committee.

“Many students rely on their institutions to meet basic needs. For example, a number of campuses that have restricted campus operations during COVID-19 still operate limited food and housing facilities for students -- such as homeless students, former foster youth, and others with no ‘home’ to return to,” the letter said.

Murray and DeLauro also urged DeVos to reverse her decision to exclude from receiving stimulus aid undocumented students brought to the U.S. as children. DeVos has said that the language of the stimulus legislation, the CARES Act, bars those not eligible for federal student aid, including the so-called DACA students, from getting the grants.

But that’s not true, Murray and DeLauro wrote. “When we drafted emergency legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress did not place limitations on which students could or should get emergency aid -- we simply directed the Secretary and institutions to make funds available to students,” they wrote.

“The extreme eligibility restrictions, which were added by the Department without any directive from Congress and without any statutory basis, represent an unconscionable response to the virus that does not discriminate against which students are impacted by it,” according to the letter.

Requiring students to be eligible for financial aid in order to get the emergency grants also excludes other students, the letter said. Those excluded include “students who do not meet academic progress standards, students who have not registered for the Selective Service, students with some types of drug convictions, certain students in adult basic education and dual enrollment programs who do not have a high school diploma, international students, and students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents,” the letter said.

In addition, Murray and DeLauro criticized the department’s decision to exclude students enrolled exclusively in online courses before March from being able to get emergency aid. Congress intended to leave that decision up to institutions, the letter said.

-- Kery Murakami

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(The story has not been edited by Ocxee staff and is referred from Inside Higher ED)