Must a Student Be Title IV-Eligible To Receive a HEERF I, HEERF II, or HEERF III Grant?

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This AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A was updated on May 12, 2021 to include guidance in the May 11, 2021 Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) III Frequently Asked Questions and the May 14, 2021 Final Rule as it relates to HEERF I grants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), HEERF II grants under the 2021 Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA, Section 314 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021), and HEERF III grants under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP).

No. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) Final Rule, any individual who is or was enrolled at an eligible institution on or after March 13, 2020 is now eligible for HEERF I, HEERF II, and HEERF III student grants. According to the HEERF III FAQs and the Final Rule, this is true regardless of whether the student completed a FAFSA or is eligible for Title IV federal student aid. And, it applies retroactively to all students and for all three HEERF programs.

It means that, in addition to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students are also eligible for student grants from all three HEERF programs. This also means that schools can award HEERF I, HEERF II, and HEERF III to students who are not enrolled in Title IV-eligible programs. This includes nondegree, noncredit, and continuing education students, students who are simultaneously enrolled in high school and college, students who have graduated or withdrawn, and so on.

ED's guidance also explicitly notes that international students can receive these funds, but that institutions still must ensure that they prioritize awarding of funds to students with exceptional need. Institutions are encouraged in the guidance to prioritize domestic undergraduate students in awarding these grants, but graduate students are eligible nonetheless.

This guidance and Final Rule represents a break from the Trump administration's previous interpretation, which held that 8 USC 1611(a) of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) prohibited nonqualified aliens from receiving federal benefits, including HEERF grants.

Reference the Final Rule and Q&As #7 and #8 in the above-referenced HEERF III FAQ.

Historical Background OnlyAccording to the April 21, 2020 Frequently Asked Questions about the Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students under Section 18004 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, only students who could be eligible to participate in the Title IV programs under Section 484 in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA) [20 USC 1091(a)], or were enrolled in Title IV-eligible programs, were eligible to receive HEERF I student grants under the CARES Act. This guidance was later codified in the June 17, 2020 Interim Final Rule, which explicitly prohibited undocumented, DACA, and international students from receiving HEERF I grants because, according to ED, the PRWORA prohibited these students from receiving federal public benefits.

Later, with the passage of the CRRSAA and HEERF II student grants, ED changed its interpretation. The HEERF II FAQs indicated that enrolled students did not have to be Title IV-eligible students in Title IV-eligible programs and that the June 17, 2020 Interim Final Rule did not apply when awarding HEERF II funds. However, at that time, a Trump administration official with ED stated verbally that ED believed undocumented, DACA, and international students were still not eligible for HEERF II funds under the PRWORA.

Update Notes:

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