By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU


One of President Biden’s first commitments made to the nation after his inauguration, was to ensure passage of a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that would provide relief and support for people and sectors hard hit by the pandemic. In a speech on January 26, he said, “….We now have a national strategy to beat Covid-19. It’s comprehensive. It’s based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial. And it is detailed. It’s going to require Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan to provide funding to administer the vaccines, to ramp up testing, to help schools and businesses reopen, and to deliver immediate economic relief to Americans who are badly in need of it through no fault of their own.”

With the support of Democrats in the House and Senate, the President delivered on his promise. On March 11, President Biden signed H.R. 1319, The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, into law. This bill provides $40 billion for students and institutions of higher education, in addition to resources for K-12 education and other sectors that are still suffering from the impact of Covid. It directs federal dollars to the CDC for vaccination efforts; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Covid testing and tracing; state and local governments for pandemic response; and provides direct payments to individuals.

This third coronavirus relief package raises the total direct support provided to higher education to $76.5 billion (additional funds for higher education came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security [CARES] Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act [CRRSAA]). AJCU is deeply grateful for this federal assistance; these appropriations represent a significant investment in our students and schools. Yet they still fall short of the conservative estimates of $120 billion in losses that higher education has realized since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The American Rescue Plan uses the same formula to distribute funds to colleges and universities as in the previous legislation for CRRSAA. Of the money made available to institutions of higher education, 50% is reserved for students. Student funds can be used for anything that falls under the cost of attendance, or for emergency needs related to the coronavirus, including: tuition, food, housing, and health care (including mental health support or childcare). Institutions will be able to use the other 50% of funds to defray Covid-related expenses and losses, including lost revenue and reimbursement for expense; technology costs related to transitions to distance learning; faculty and staff trainings; payroll; or providing additional support to students. This new investment will go a long way to help stabilize colleges and universities, and provide needed support for students to continue their education.

Covid relief has been an advocacy priority for AJCU, both in terms of requesting financial support from Congress, and in raising awareness about specific populations negatively impacted by the pandemic. We have called on Congress to address reciprocity of state licensure and telehealth during the declared state of emergency; educated Congress and the Administration about the challenges that international students continue to face in coming to the United States for post-secondary study; and sought protections for student veterans whose benefits were impacted by the transition to virtual learning.

There is ongoing discussion about additional federal economic recovery efforts, which will continue to be a focus for AJCU. In addition, we are beginning to turn our attention to the regular order of business, such as the FY 2022 appropriations process, and continued advocacy for increased investments in federal student financial aid, including a doubling of the Pell Grant to $13,000. For more information about AJCU’s advocacy, please visit the Policy Corner of our website.