College planning distribution of HEERF II COVID-19 relief funds to students in spring semester

By Emma Reilly

Elm Staff Writer

In a campus email sent by the Director of Student Financial Aid Jennifer Gallagher on Jan. 19, Washington College announced that it will receive a second round of emergency COVID-19 relief funds in the near future. 

“We will be receiving another round of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds II (HEERF II) to be directly distributed to students,” Gallagher said. “We have a team working on application and allocation methods so that we will be ready when the funds arrive.”

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which was signed into law by former President Donald Trump on Dec. 27, authorized $81.88 billion in HEERF II funding, according to the Department of Education. 

The HEERF II Funds authorized by CRRSAA will consist of a student aid and institutional aid portion, according to the Department of Education. 

This apportionment of funds resembles that of the initial round of aid received by the College in spring 2020 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.  

According to the Department of Education, the CARES Act “allotted $2.2 trillion to provide fast and direct economic aid to the American people negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

$14 billion of those funds were distributed to institutions of higher learning by the Office of Postsecondary Education, according to the Department of Education. 

The College received a total of $1,047,397 from CARES in spring 2020, according to Gallagher, with $523,699 going towards student needs and the rest addressing institutional needs. 

This amount was determined by 2017 survey data, including the number of WC students who receive federal Pell Grant funds, according to Gallagher.

HEERF II funding will differ from CARES funding in a few distinct ways.

WC’s funding for students remains the same under the CRRSAA. However, the institutional portion of the College’s funding has increased.

The initial grants awarded by the CARES Act also came with little direction in terms of distribution to the student population. Institutions receiving HEERF II funding will be held responsible for the prioritization of Pell Grant students.

“I think [the Department of Education] referred to them as ‘exceptionally needy students’ — which is usually defined by the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid],” Gallagher said. “It will become a part of the yearly audit. They’re going to want to know how we prioritized Pell students.”

HEERF II funds can also be given to students who have not filled out a FAFSA, another difference from CARES. 

Undocumented students, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival students, and international students remain unable to qualify for funding.

According to Gallagher, a representative group of WC’s senior staff met the week of Feb. 1 to discuss the distribution of HEERF II funds to students.

“My goal going into the meeting…it would be to make sure that we make funds available to all students that we possibly can and then to save some for the fall semester, because we don’t know if this is going to continue or how long it’s going to continue,” Gallagher said.

Throughout WC’s planning process, students have been the focus, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm.

“Our overarching goal will be to distribute the funds as broadly and fairly as possible. And truly, just to be able to help as many students as we can,” Dr. Feyerherm said. “[We] want to make sure we can remove some of the financial barriers to success that students are facing now.”

In addition to the forthcoming HEERF II funding, the College also has other human and financial resources that students can turn to as they deal with the impacts of COVID-19, according to Dr. Feyerherm. 

“We have lots of folks here to help students navigate these difficult times — from our counselors in counseling services, our staff in career development, our residential life staff, and many others who can answer questions and help steer students in the right direction,” Dr. Feyerherm said.

WC’s student emergency fund and Class of 1955 fund will also be available to students in need of financial support — including those who don’t qualify for HEERF II funding, according to Dr. Feyerherm.

WC will continue to plan for HEERF II distribution in the coming months as a student-driven and need-based allocation process is established. 

Applications for HEERF II funding are not yet open.

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