The Biden administration is expanding eligibility for pandemic relief aid to include undocumented and international college students, reversing a Trump-era policy that blocked them from receiving federal emergency grants.
Last year, the Education Department said that only those students who were eligible for existing federal student aid would be allowed to receive the new emergency grant. That excluded undocumented immigrants, international students and those who were in default on federal student loans, as well as students who weren’t meeting academic standards or were enrolled in ineligible education programs.
That interpretation of the law also blocked immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was upheld by the Supreme Court last year in response to the Trump administration’s attempt to end it.
“These funds are critical to ensuring that all of our nation’s students – particularly those disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic – have the opportunity to enroll, continue their education, graduate, and pursue their careers,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.
The Trump-era policy became the subject of court battles in several states and provoked outcry from Democratic lawmakers such as Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, who now chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Murray praised the Biden administration’s announcement Tuesday, saying she is “so relieved” by the decision.
“It shouldn’t matter if you are undocumented or a DACA recipient—every student struggling because of this pandemic deserves access to emergency aid that can make all the difference,” Murray said in a statement.
The new Education Department rule comes as the agency releases the roughly $36 billion in emergency aid now available for postsecondary education, authorized by the latest Covid relief package, which passed in March.
The funds will go to both public and private colleges, based in part on how many low-income students who receive Pell Grants are enrolled. The schools must use at least half of the funds to make emergency financial aid grants to students, prioritizing those with “exceptional need.”
Now the schools are allowed to grant the money to any student enrolled during the pandemic. The earlier rounds of grant aid, authorized by Covid relief packages passed by Congress last year, excluded undocumented students.
The latest round of funding is the biggest yet for colleges and universities. The latest relief bill also provided about $800 million to support students experiencing homelessness.