What You Need to Do with Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund Guidance

September 5, 2020 | Article

The Department of Education (ED) has issued reporting guidelines for higher education institutions to comply with Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Below is a summary of the reporting guidelines:

We broke down what your higher education institution needs to know about the CARES Act.

Student Portion of HEERF Funding
The guidance states the following information must appear on the institution’s primary website 30 days after the date when the institution received its allocation under 18004(a)(1) of the CARES act. It must be updated every 45 days thereafter:

In an update on August 28, 2020, the 45-day requirement was changed to be no later than 10 days after the end of each calendar quarter (September 30, December 31, March 31, and June 30) thereafter, unless the Secretary specifies an alternative method of reporting:

  • Acknowledgement that the institution signed and returned to the ED the Funding Certification and Agreement for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students and the assurance that the institution has used, or intends to use, no less than 50% of the funds received under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act to provide emergency financial aid grants to students.
  • The total amount of funds the institution will receive or has received from the ED pursuant to the institution’s Funding Certification and Agreement for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students.
  • The total amount of emergency financial aid grants distributed to students under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act as of the date of submission (i.e., as of the 30-day report and every 45 days thereafter).
  • The estimated total number of students at the institution eligible to participate in programs under Section 484 of Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and thus eligible to receive emergency financial aid grants to students under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act.

On August 28, 2020, a revised notice for the Student Share Public Posting Requirement for HEERF Grantees was issued. In the revised notice, the following was added:

  • For the purposes of this report, institutions may determine the number of eligible students based on the number of students for whom the institution has received an Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) plus the number of students who completed an alternative application form developed by the institution for this purpose. The institution may then apply this number to its own methodological framework for disbursal of funds to produce a final total of eligible students at the institution. The institution is not asked to make assumptions about the potential eligibility of students for whom the institution has not received an ISIR or an alternative application.
  • The total number of students who have received an emergency financial aid grant to students under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act.
  • The method(s) used by the institution to determine which students receive emergency financial aid grants and how much they would receive under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act.
  • Any instructions, directions, or guidance provided by the institution to students concerning the emergency financial aid grants.

As institutions are working to prepare the 30-day Fund Report, they must remember to still comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and protect personally identifiable information. The ED states that it does not expect institutions to report information about a group of 10 or fewer students on publicly available websites controlled by the institution.

Those institutions that accurately report the information listed above will meet the initial reporting requirements. For subsequent reports and reporting for other related HEERF programs, the ED will notify participating institutions of the preferred reporting method.

Institutional Portion HEERF Funding
The Department of Education also recently issued guidance regarding reporting requirements for the Institutional Portion (a)(2) and (a)(3), as well as the institutional portion of the school’s Section 18004(a)(1) funds. The first reports are due to be publicly posted on the institution’s website by October 30, 2020. The covered period on the first publicly posted report should cover the period from the date of the first HEERF grant award through September 30, 2020. Subsequent reports are due quarterly and must be posted no later than 10 days after the next calendar quarter begins (January 10, April 10, July 10, October 10).

Here is a link to the pdf version of the required quarterly report.

For the reporting requirements on the student portion of the HEERF funding, please refer to the following Insight.

Below is a summary of the HEERF Reporting Requirements:

Who Reports Method of Reporting First report due to be posted Frequency of Reporting As of 9/28, when is the next report due? Substance of Reporting What do I do if I have expended all of my HEERF grant funds?
Section 18004(a)(1) Student Portion Public Reporting All HEERF grantees that received a Section 18004(a)(1) Student Portion award. Information is publicly posted on institution's primary website. First report was generally due 30 days after the Department originally obligated funds to the institution for the Section 18004(a)(1) Student Portion. See our Federal Register notice published on August 31, 2020 for more information. Subsequent reports are due quarterly and must be posted no later than 10 days after the calendar quarter (October 10, January 10, April 10, July 10). By October 10 covering the period from the last 30 or 45 day report through September 30. Information specified in our May 6, 2020 Electronic Announcement, which was updated in a Federal Register notice published on August 31, 2020. Please indicate that the final quarterly posting is the final report that covers all remaining HEERF fund expenditures for Section 18004(a)(1) Student Portion funds. After posting that report, no more quarterly public reporting of Section 18004(a)(1) Student Portion funds is required.
Section 18004(a)(1) Institutional Portion, (a)(2), and (a)(3) Public Reporting All HEERF grantees that received a Section 18004(a)(1) Institutional Portion, (a)(2), or (a)(3) award. Information is publicly posted on institution's primary website in the same place as the Student Portion Public Reporting described above. First report due October 30, 2020 covering the period from first award through September 30, 2020. Subsequent reports are then due quarterly and must be posted no later than 10 days after the calendar quarter (January 10, April 10, July 10, October 10). By October 30 covering the period from the date of the first HEERF award through September 30. October 13, 2020 Update: Reporting Forms Now available: Word Document (38 KB) | PDF Document (156 KB) Please check the box on the form that it is the "final report" that covers all remaining HEERF fund expenditures for 18004(a)(1) Institutional Portion, (a)(2), and (a)(3) funds. After posting that report, no more quarterly public reporting for 18004(a)(1) Institutional Portion, (a)(2), and (a)(3) funds is required.
Annual Reporting All HEERF grantees. Report is submitted to the Department via a portal system currently in development. Intended first annual report due in early 2021. Yearly. Submission will be required of all HEERF grantees. Intended first annual report due in early 2021. Not yet finalized, but draft form is in public comment period. See our Federal Register Notice here and Form and Instructions and Supporting Statement here. All institutions that received any HEERF award will still have to submit an annual report in early 2021 to the Department regardless if at that time they still have HEERF funds or not.

Frequently Asked Questions Provide Additional Guidance
In October 2020, additional guidance was released via the third round of frequently asked questions related to HEERF. Highlights include:

  • Clarification on Internal Final Ruling in relation to Title IV. Prior to the Interim Final Rule being issued in June, higher education institutions may have included non-Title IV aid eligible students in their HEERF funding. According to the new FAQ, the Department of Education will not take enforcement actions against this distribution since the rule was not effective until June 17, 2020.
  • Account credits for students as a form of refund. Directly awarding student refunds for housing expenses or other fees that were not utilized due to COVID-19 is an allowable use of the Institutional Portion of HEERF, under the CARES Act. Institutions are encouraged to act quickly when providing student refunds. Ideally, institutions should provide refunds to students within 14 days of deciding to use their Institutional Portion funds for this purpose. Institutions cannot, however, reimburse themselves from the funds earmarked for emergency financial aid grants to students for refunds for various fees, including room and board and tuition.
  • Reclaiming of funds by the Department of Education. The FAQ states that the ED may reclaim unused portions of the HEERF allocation. Institutions are given a calendar year (365 days) from the date of the award to complete their HEERF grants. After the year is up, the grantee has 90 days to liquidate previously obligated funds. No-cost extensions of up to 12 months are available and must be discussed with a program officer well in advance of the grant period of performance.
  • How to deal with emergency financial aid grants not yet spent. Grantees must attempt to minimize the time between drawing down funds from the G5 system and applying those funds to support a grant award’s activities. Additionally, grantees must maintain grant funds in interest-bearing accounts. Any interest above $500 a year must be remitted to the Federal government. Given this, the FAQ encourages institutions to establish a distribution plan prior to an initial draw down of grant funds. In addition, grantees are encouraged to only draw down the minimum amount of grant funds necessary.
  • Use of the Institutional Portion of the allocation to cover lost revenue. The Institutional Portion of the award may not be used to defray revenue losses. The funds must be used to pay expenses encumbered as a result of significant changes to the delivery of instruction because of COVID-19.
  • Use of the Institutional Portion of the allocation to upgrade computer systems for distance learning. Institutions can use funds from the Institutional Portion to purchase equipment or software, pay online licensing fees or pay for Internet to help students in distance learning. The funds can also be used toward any cost for computer system upgrades related to a change in delivery of instruction because of COVID-19.
  • Using funds for executive and senior administration salaries. These salaries do not meet the criteria for costs associated with significant changes in the delivery of instruction because of COVID-19. The Student Aid Portion of the allocation also cannot be used as it is specifically set aside for emergency financial aid grant.
  • Eligibility of students exclusively enrolled in online programs. Students who are enrolled exclusively in online programs on March 13, 2020 are not eligible to receive emergency financial aid grants. The use of these funds is specifically designated for students and their expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19.
  • Reimbursement related to student worker pay. Institutions are not allowed to reimburse themselves from the emergency financial aid grant funds for students if they have continued to pay student workers. The CARES Act requires institutions provide the emergency financial aid grants to students and institutions may not use that portion of the HEERF.
  • Use of Recipient’s Institutional Costs, including Online Program Management (OPM). Higher education institutions can use funds for Recipient’s Institutional Costs to pay a per-student fee to a third-party service provider, such as OPM, for each additional student who uses distance learning platforms, learning management systems or other support services. Funds for Recipient’s Institutional Costs may not be used to pay a third-party recruiter for recruiting or enrolling students at your institution.
  • Documentation of lost revenue under section 18004(a)(2) and (a)(3). Institutions must provide documents that demonstrate year-over-year decreases in revenue as a result of decline in enrollment, decline in student fees (such as housing fees and meals plans), a decline in parking and facilities revenue or a decline in revenue for summer programs or other activities related to COVID-19.

Maintaining Compliance in Your Higher Education Institution
The CARES Act provided several benefits for industry specific entities, including higher education institutions. It’s important to know the requirements for these relief provisions and comply with them. Ensuring you have the proper documentation in place for this funding is the first step. It will also be critical to watch for updated guidance and best practices as your higher education institution navigates this new normal.

Here’s what higher education organizations need to do in the wake of COVID-19.