Can We Continue To Pay FWS Students Who Are Unable To Work FWS Jobs Due To COVID-19?

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This guidance is not award-year-specific and applies across award years.

This AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A was updated on January 31, 2023 to note that the COVID-19 national emergency will end on May 11, 2023.

Yes. According to guidance NASFAA has received from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), students can be paid Federal Work-Study (FWS) funds if they are unable to work due to a COVID-19 related disruption that occurs during the 2020-21 or 2021-22 academic years. Per ED, "The part of the statement in the April 3, 2020 Electronic Announcement requiring students to have 'begun their FWS job prior to the declaration of the national emergency' in order to qualify for COVID-19 FWS relief no longer applies. The flexibility provided under Section 3505 of the CARES Act can be applied in more than one academic year if disruptions occur during multiple academic years. However, the CARES Act provides that the relief provided in that section only applies 'for all or part of [the] academic year due to [the] qualifying emergency…' Therefore, in order for an institution to make payments of Federal Work-Study funds to students who did not actually work the associated hours, a disruption related to the COVID-19 national emergency must have taken place during the same academic year that those FWS funds were awarded."

The January 15, 2021 Electronic Announcement extends the implementation guidance in the March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement and April 3, 2020 Electronic Announcement through the end of the payment period that includes the end date for the federally declared qualifying emergency related to COVID-19; the end date is now set for May 11, 2023. See AskRegs Q&A, When Do the Various Title IV COVID-19 Flexibilities and Waivers End? 

The Conditions: The school may choose to continue to pay students who are unable to continue working an FWS job due to a COVID-19 related disruption during the award period (or academic year) only if all of the following conditions are met:

Additionally, the school can only pay students under these conditions as long as the school continues to pay its essential faculty and/or staff and continues to meet its institutional wage share requirement for the FWS Program. See AskRegs Q&A, Can We Pay FWS Students If We Don't Pay Non-FWS Students Who Are Unable To Work Due To Coronavirus?

2019-20 Academic Year: The April 3rd Electronic Announcement allowed schools to continue to pay students under the above conditions for terms or payment periods in the 2019-20 academic year that began on or after March 5, 2020 and began on or before June 1, 2020. This guidance remained effective through June 30, 2020. In addition to that, if the school’s summer payment period was assigned to the 2019-20 award/academic year and crossed over July 1, the guidance continued to apply through the end of the crossover payment period (even if ended after June 30). For example, if the student was only enrolled for the Fall-Spring academic year, and the FWS award only covered the Fall-Spring academic year that ended on May 15th, you could only continue to pay the student until the student was no longer enrolled for the academic year--that was May 15th.

2020-21 Academic Year: As noted above, the school can choose to continue to pay FWS students for the 2020-21 academic year if all of the above conditions are met during the 2020-21 academic year. This means a new COVID-related disruption must occur during the 2020-21 academic year in order for the school to continue to pay students for FWS jobs they had already started prior to the new disruption in 2020-21. The school cannot pay students 2020-21 FWS award funds for a disruption that occurred during the prior academic year (such as in Spring 2020). The student does not have to have been working prior to the declaration of the national emergency during the Spring, but does need to be working before any new COVID-related disruption in a subsequent academic year in order to continue to be paid FWS when unable to work.

For example, let's assume the academic calendar consists of a traditional Fall-Spring academic year. If a COVID-related disruption occurred in the Spring 2020 term, students who had been awarded FWS funds and scheduled to work hours for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year could receive FWS payments based on the hours they had been scheduled to work in Spring 2020 (or a Summer 2020 trailer). However, the school could not make FWS payments to a student who did not work the scheduled hours for the Fall 2020 term (in the following academic year) unless another COVID-related disruption occurred during the Fall 2020 term after the student already had been awarded and started working the FWS job for the 2020-21 academic year.

2021-22 Academic Year and Beyond: The same guidance applies through the end of the payment period that includes the end date of the COVID-19 national emergency.

See also AskRegs Q&A, Can We Continue To Pay FWS Students Who Are Unable To Work If We Planned In Advance To Send Students Home After Thanksgiving?

Other Limitations: The student can only be paid for the FWS hours he, she, or they were scheduled to work for the academic year. See AskRegs Q&A, How Do We Determine How Much To Pay FWS Students When Enrollment Is Disrupted By Coronavirus?

According to the March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement, FWS funds still cannot be paid under this COVID-19 guidance for a term or payment period in which the student does not begin attendance. This includes payment periods that start later than originally scheduled due to COVID-19 interruptions. As explained in the announcement, "Students who were prevented from beginning a term at the institution as a result of a COVID-19-related disruption would not be eligible for Federal Student Aid for that term, and therefore could not be paid FWS wages for hours they did not work." This is consistent with Title IV aid treatment under 34 CFR 668.21.

Students who are allowed to continue to work in the FWS job must continue to be paid under normal FWS rules in 34 CFR Part 675 and Volume 6 of the FSA Handbook. This includes community service and off-campus employers. Likewise, if the student can work remotely, there is no interruption in the FWS job, so the student must work the hours in order to be paid FWS funds. Schools are not required to allow students to work remotely. See AskRegs Q&A, Can an FWS Student Work Remotely Due to Coronavirus? Also, the FWS guidance does not apply to students who decide for themselves to leave campus and/or switch to online classes. These students are not eligible to be paid FWS for any hours they do not actually work.

The Alternative: There is an alternative for the students who did not have an FWS award or did not begin working an FWS job prior to the COVID-related disruption and thus are not eligible to be paid FWS for not working. According to the August 21st announcement, the school can continue to transfer any unspent FWS funds into its Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) account and award any portion of FSEOG funds as Emergency FSEOG to pay unexpected expenses and to cover unmet financial need as the result of the qualifying emergency. This includes replacing FWS funds if the student is unable to work due to COVID-19, such as closing campus and moving classes from ground-based to online. This applies through the end of the payment period that includes December 31, 2020 or the end of the payment period that includes the end date for the federally declared qualifying emergency related to COVID-19, whichever occurs later. See AskRegs Q&As, Can a School Transfer 100 Percent Of Its Unspent FWS Funds Into FSEOG Due To COVID-19?, and Can We Make Emergency FSEOG Awards For the 2020-21 Award Year?

Just know that you cannot replace the lost wages with Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants to students. See AskRegs Q&A, Can Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds Be Used To Replace Lost Wages (FWS or Otherwise)?


Update Notes:

AskRegs Q&As represent NASFAA's understanding of regulatory and compliance issues. They are FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY. While NASFAA believes AskRegs Q&As are accurate and factual, they have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). If you should need written confirmation of AskRegs information for audit or program review purposes, please contact your ED School Participation Division. NASFAA shall not be liable for technical or editorial errors or omissions contained herein; nor for incidental or consequential damages resulting from the furnishing, performance, or use of this material.