About 18 million college students got a financial boost from Biden's COVID-19 rescue law

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WASHINGTON — An estimated 18 million college students received financial aid from President Joe Biden's COVID-19 rescue package and other relief funds, helping millions stay enrolled during the pandemic, according to a new Department of Education report.

The report, released Wednesday, came as Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chairman of the Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, vowed to investigate "waste, fraud and abuse" from $5 trillion in pandemic relief funds distributed by the Trump and Biden administrations.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed into law in March 2021, included $40 billion for colleges and universities through a historic infusion of money into the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, or HEERF.

President Joe Biden arrives to speak about student debt relief at Central New Mexico Community College Student Resource Center in Albuquerque in November.
President Joe Biden arrives to speak about student debt relief at Central New Mexico Community College Student Resource Center in Albuquerque in November.

How did Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds work?

About 90% of the additional HEERF funding awarded to 5,000 colleges and universities was exhausted by the end of 2022, according to the Education Department's data.

Funds could be used to support any expense related to a student's cost to attend college including food housing, mental health and child care.

More: Biden will end COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11 after more than 3 years

More: Could Biden's student loan debt forgiveness plan be affected by the end of the COVID emergency?

In 2021 alone, college and universities passed on $19.5 billion in emergency financial grants to 12.7 million students, according to the report. About 80% of low-income Pell Grant recipients received grant money.

First lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona formally rolled out the data Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.

"The report released today offers the clearest picture yet of how universities get dollars to students," Cardona said. Many students wouldn’t be able to stay in college without the financial aid to help pay for housing, tuition and other expenses, he said.

Anthony Keenan, a student at the Community College of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, recalled his college career, including many when he couldn't complete class assignments on nights he was sleeping at a homeless shelter.

The financial boost made all the difference for him.

"Between the HEERF funds and other resources, I've made it to graduation," he said. "I have one more class this semester."

What happens now?: COVID funding helped historically Black colleges survive the pandemic.

Who received the emergency student aid?

Those who received emergency aid grant include:

  • 6 million community college students

  • 450,000 students at Historically Black College and Universities, known as HBCUs

  • 8 million students at minority-serving Institutions

  • 24,000 students at Tribal Colleges and Universities

Delaware State University President Tony Allen applauded the Biden administration for investing in Black student achievement on Wednesday's call.

"No other administration has done as much for HBCUs," he said.

The Biden administration said Monday it plans to end both the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency in May, restructuring how the federal government will respond to the pandemic that is entering its fourth year.

The Supreme Court will soon decide the future of separate Biden action, also tied to the pande that sought to forgive student loan debt for millions of college students.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden emergency aid helped 18 million college students during pandemic