This page will be updated as more information becomes available
UPDATE: Student loan payment pause extended through August 31, 2022
Congress has passed several rounds of financial assistance and relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including most recently the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was signed into law on March 11, 2021.
The newly enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides federal funding so that states, communities, educators, and families are equipped with resources and flexibilities that empower students to continue pursuing their education goals. The bill includes additional funding to support programs created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including:
Furthermore, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides:
The previous relief package, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, also provided:
How will funds under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) flow to States and school districts?
Funds will be allocated to States and school districts in proportion to what they received under the Title I- A formula of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This is in the same manner that ESSER funds have flowed under the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA). States will first receive funds under ESSER and be required to subgrant at least 90 percent of ESSER funds to school districts in proportion to what those school districts received under the Title I-A formula.
How can ESSER funds be used?
ESSER funds may be used to address the many impacts of COVID-19 on pre-K through 12 education, including:
How much do states have to set-aside within ESSER and are each of these set-asides separate from each other?
When states receive their ESSER grant, they must set aside three mandatory reservations to comply with American Rescue Plan within the 10 percent of the ESSER grant that states can reserve at the state level. Each of these reservations is separate from the others. First, states must reserve at least 5 percent to support the implementation of evidence-based interventions to address learning loss. Second, states must reserve at least 1 percent to support evidence-based summer enrichment activities. Third, states must reserve at least 1 percent to support evidence-based comprehensive afterschool programs. States may also reserve up to half a percent for administration of the ESSER program.
How will the funds be used to address learning loss and help meet students’ academic and other needs that were impacted by the pandemic?
States are required to use at least 5 percent of their ESSER state-level reservation, and school districts are required to use at least 20 percent of their ESSER subgrant to implement evidence-based interventions to address learning loss. These evidence-based interventions need to address students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and respond to the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on students from families with low incomes, students of color, English learners, migrant students, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care. States and districts can also use their broader ESSER funds to address learning loss among students.
Is there funding for summer enrichment and afterschool programs?
Yes. States are required to set aside 1 percent of their ESSER State-level reservation to fund evidence- based summer enrichment programs and an additional 1 percent of those funds to fund evidence-based comprehensive afterschool programs. In using those funds, each state is required to ensure such programs respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on students from families with low incomes, students of color, English learners, migrant students, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care. States and school districts can also use their broader ESSER funds to support summer enrichment and afterschool activities.
Will funds be used by schools to support safe reopening?
Funds that school districts receive under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the CARES Act and CRRSAA, are intended to be used for a variety of purposes to support safe reopening. These purposes include: implementing public health protocols (including policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the reopening and operation of school facilities); purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency; implement procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies, and coordinate with State, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, among other things. Districts are also required to develop a plan for the safe reopening of schools and solicit public comment from the community.
What are the requirements, if any, related to the safe reopening of schools?
Within 30 days of receiving their ESSER funds, school districts are required to develop and make publicly available on the school district’s website a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services. Before publishing the plan on the school district website, each school district must seek public comment on the plan and take such comments into account in the development of the plan. If school districts already have reopening plans that received public comment and are publicly available on the school districts’ websites, those previous plans can satisfy American Rescue Plan’s requirement related to reopening plans.
Can ESSER funding for schools be used to support online or distance learning for students?
Yes. Funds that school districts receive under ESSER may be used to purchase broadband connectivity and educational technology for students, including computers, tablets, software, and hotspots. Funds may also be used to purchase assistive technology or adaptive equipment for students with disabilities, and to support professional development for educators and other school staff to support online learning.
How can ESSER funds be used to support students and families experiencing homelessness?
From the $122.8 billion provided for ESSER, the Secretary of Education must use $800 million to support the identification and provision of wraparound services for children and youth experiencing homelessness. Further information from the Department of Education is forthcoming regarding how these funds will be distributed to States and school districts. Additionally, states and school districts may use their regular ESSER allocations to meet the unique needs of students experiencing homelessness and purchase educational technology or broadband connectivity for such students.
What are the maintenance of equity provisions included in ESSER in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021?
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes state and district-level maintenance of equity requirements. As a condition of receiving ESSER funds, each State must agree not to disproportionately reduce state education funding on a per-pupil basis in FY22 and FY23 for their neediest schools districts who enroll 50 percent of total students in the state. States must also agree to not reduce state education funding on a per-pupil basis in FY22 or FY23 for their highest poverty school districts that enroll 20 percent of total students in the state.
School districts that receive ESSER funds must also submit an assurance they will not disproportionately, on a per-pupil basis, reduce funding or staffing levels in FY22 or FY23 at schools that serve the greatest percentage of students from families with low incomes.
These maintenance of equity requirements are designed to ensure that school districts and schools that serve a higher proportion of students from families with low incomes do not face disproportionate state and local education cuts if states and school districts make education cuts. These protections will help ensure that higher poverty school districts and schools serving large numbers of Black and Latinx students and higher poverty school districts or schools in rural communities do not face disproportionate state and local cuts.
Do students who attend private schools receive relief?
Yes. American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes $2.75 billion in funding for services to private schools that enroll a significant percentage of students from families with low-incomes. This funding will be implemented under the terms and conditions of the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) program authorized under the CRRSAA, except funds provided under American Rescue Plan for EANS cannot be used for reimbursements to non-public schools and must be targeted to non-public schools that enroll a significant percentage of low-income students.
How can funds be used to support students with disabilities?
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides an additional $3.03 billion in dedicated funds to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs for fiscal year 2021, including $2.58 billion for grants to states under Part B, $200 million for preschool grants under section 619, and $250 million for infants and toddlers programs under Part C. Additionally, school districts receiving grants through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) can use funds for any authorized activities under IDEA, as well as to meet the needs of students of disabilities in outreach and service delivery, providing technology for online learning, purchasing assistive technology, and planning and implementing summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs. Districts must set aside not less than 20 percent of their ESSER grants for addressing learning loss, including for students with disabilities.
More information regarding Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is available from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Elementary & Secondary Education here: https://oese.ed.gov/american-rescue-plan-elementary-and-secondary-school-emergency-relief/
How is funding allocated to colleges and universities under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund?
The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) allocates funds to public, private non-profit, and for-profit colleges and universities under a nearly identical formula as the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA). This formula equitably provides a total of $39.6 billion to colleges and universities based largely on the number of Pell Grant recipients they serve.
The main HEERF formula allocates $36.4 billion to virtually every college and university under the same basic formula as in CRRSAA—77 percent is allocated based on enrollment of Pell grant recipients and 23 percent based on enrollment of non-Pell students, including graduate students or undergraduates who do not qualify for Pell Grants. Of this amount, 2 percent is reserved for institutions that enrolled students exclusively online prior to the pandemic.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other Minority Serving Institutions will also receive supplemental awards—in addition to the funding they receive under the main formula—totaling nearly $3 billion. This supplemental funding will be distributed, as it was in CRRSAA, based on the share of annual funding provided to each program in the Department of Education Appropriations Act, 2020 (Public Law 116–94), and other factors outlined in statute.
Finally, a small amount of funding ($198 million) is reserved, as it was in CRRSAA, for colleges and universities with significant unmet needs that are not addressed by the funding above because they have unique circumstances not reflected in those formulas. The Department is currently soliciting comments on how this funding should be prioritized.
What can colleges and universities spend HEERF on?
Colleges and universities will have broad flexibility in how they can use urgently needed HEERF funds. They may use funds to “defray expenses associated with coronavirus,” which includes lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, faculty and staff trainings, and payroll. The U.S. Department of Education maintains guidance regarding specific or unique questions about how the Department determines whether expenses are sufficiently associated with coronavirus. Funding provided under American Rescue Plan and CRRSSA is more flexible than the funding provided under the CARES Act. Further guidance is expected from the Department as the implementation of American Rescue Plan moves forward.
Institutions must also generally provide at least half of their allocation directly to students in the form of emergency financial aid. Public and non-profit institutions must spend at least 50 percent on such aid (but can spend more), while for-profit colleges must spend 100 percent of their allocation on student aid.
What can students spend emergency financial aid on?
Of the funding provided under HEERF, no less than $18.4 billion is dedicated to emergency financial aid. Students may use their financial aid on any component of their “cost of attendance” which includes tuition, fees, books, supplies, transportation, health care, child care, and other expenses. They can also use such grants for “emergency costs that arise due to coronavirus” such as tuition, food, housing, health care (including mental health care), or child care, although these costs are already included in a student’s cost of attendance. In making financial aid grants to students, an institution of higher education shall prioritize grants to students with exceptional need, such as students who receive Pell Grants.
What other support and assistance is available to help students in higher education?
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides a broad range of financial and income support to help the nation recover from the pandemic. Beyond funding allocated to emergency financial aid, students may be eligible for many of these sources of assistance. For example, the $1,400 economic impact payments now include adult dependents, which applies to many college students. Households will receive an additional $1,400 for each dependent.
Students without dependents may benefit from a tripling of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and student parents will benefit from a massive expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for children under 6. Note that, to claim EITC or CTC, a student must file taxes, and many students are not aware of the benefits of tax filing (including education tax benefits). Additionally, economic impact payments are based on an individual’s most recently completed tax return. Students may also be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or premium subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, both of which were extended and expanded by American Rescue Plan, or eligible for new supports provided for low-income students under CRRSAA, including subsidized broadband and expanded access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Institutions will need to use a portion of their HEERF allocation to conduct direct outreach to students about how they can receive a financial aid adjustment if they, or a supporting family member, have become recently unemployed. Most financial aid packages are based on tax data from two years prior, which means students enrolled in the current 2020-2021 school year are using tax data from 2019, predating massive employment and income disruptions from the pandemic. Financial aid adjustments that look a student’s current financial situation could unlock additional Federal, State, or institutional financial aid.
Lastly, the Department of Education is directed to conduct direct outreach to students and borrowers about financial aid, economic impact payments, means-tested benefits, unemployment assistance, and tax benefits, for which the students and borrowers may be eligible.
I am a child care provider struggling to keep my program in business. What financial assistance is available for child care providers in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021?
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $24 billion in child care stabilization grants for child care providers to help meet their increased operating costs and backfill limited revenue due to the pandemic. Providers are eligible for assistance if they are 1) an eligible-provider as defined in the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, or 2) a licensed, regulated, or registered provider in their state on the date of enactment of American Rescue Plan. Providers can be open, or temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Subgrants can be used for a variety of expenses, such as personnel expenses; rent, mortgage, and utility payments; cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment; mental health services for children and staff; and other activities to maintain or resume operations of the child care provider. States must base subgrant amounts on the child care provider’s stated current operating expenses. A child care provider that receives funds must certify that for the duration of the subgrant, the child care provider will: implement policies in line with guidance from State, Tribal, and local authorities, and to the greatest extent possible, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; pay no less than the full compensation the provider was paying each employee on the date of submission of the application for the subgrant; and provide relief from copayments and tuition payments to families enrolled in the provider’s program, to the greatest extent possible, and prioritize such relief for families struggling to make either type of payment.
Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which states can use flexibly, such as to pay child care providers based on enrollment rather than attendance; increase subsidy reimbursement rates, expand access to child care subsidies, and waive copayments for families receiving subsidies.
I am an essential worker in need of child care. Does the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 help me?
Yes. States can use their funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to expand eligibility to provide child care assistance to health care sector employees, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other workers that are deemed essential during the COVID-19 response by public officials.
How does the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 support the Head Start program?
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes $1 billion for Head Start to ensure Head Start grantees can continue to provide high-quality services to children and families. Wisconsin is estimated to receive $15.5 million under this program.
How does the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 support the prevention of child abuse and neglect?
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes $350 million for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Of that total, $100 million is dedicated for CAPTA’s State grants to provide necessary supports to prevent, investigate, and treat child abuse and neglect. In addition, $250 million will go to CAPTA’s community-based child abuse and neglect prevention programs to provide vital community- based services to strengthen and support families during the pandemic.
How does the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 help families afford utility payments?
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes $4.5 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to support families in meeting their heating and cooling costs. The bill also includes $500 million for a new water and wastewater assistance program, to award grants to States and Indian Tribes to provide payments to owners and operators of public water systems to reduce arrearages and rates charged to low-income households for drinking water and wastewater services.
The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 included a number of policy changes related to federal financial aid. In addition to removing some questions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and reworking the formula for determining a student’s “expected family contribution” or EFC, the legislation:
For information about education and the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, please click here.
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