Grants and Student Aid Available Through the CARES Act

A college student at a library table with a notebook and laptop

The CARES Act was one of the most significant pieces of legislation in U.S. history. The $2.2 trillion stimulus bill provided relief to Americans, businesses, hospitals, and local governments across the country. Some aspects of the CARES Act, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, have gotten considerable coverage.

Others, like the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, have been reported on less. That fund may end up being extremely important, as it includes billions of dollars earmarked for college grants. Here’s what you need to know, and how to find out if you qualify.

The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund

The fund was created to assist students who have been financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This emergency fund provides $14.25 billion for thousands of colleges and universities across the country, and any school that received money must put 50 percent of it toward aiding students. The other 50 percent can be used for approved school spending, but the Department of Education has said that schools can give as much as they want to students.

Any money a student receives can be put toward the cost of their attendance. That includes books, housing, and more expenses, as outlined by the Education Department. 

Despite the fact that this was all included in the CARES Act, signed in March, there hasn’t been much news on schools doling out this grant money. Some schools have already started, including Temple University and Pierce College, but it seems as if the rollout will be slower than some other relief programs. While that may be disheartening, the good news is that students still have time to request relief from their school.

Qualifying for Aid

First off, whether or not you filed a FAFSA this year is a part of whether or not you’ll qualify for grants through this fund. It’s not technically a requirement, but the Department of Education said it can streamline the process. It’s the easiest way for your school to have your finances on hand. However, you can only get relief from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund through your school, not the federal government.

As mentioned above, some schools have already started disbursing funds, while others have opened the program. The process will be slightly different at each school, but New York University’s explainer is a good template for how most will work. To apply, students need to login to their university accounts, click a link for ‘COVID-19 & Financial Appeal,’ and request grant money based on their individual situation.

Some colleges, such as Harvard, declined the funding, and others have already closed their applications, however. That means not every student that needs relief may end up getting it. There are other measures in place to protect students, including private and federal loan relief, and you can always reach out directly to your university for unique situations.