The Senate approved $40 billion in COVID relief on Saturday, marking a resounding victory for colleges and universities pressing for financial aid from the federal government.
Before the new bill — poised to be the largest infusion of higher education assistance since the beginning of the pandemic — is signed by President Joe Biden, it will need to be passed by the House once again on Tuesday due to changes made by the Senate over the weekend.
Though the relief is less than half of the $97 billion requested by higher education lobbying group the American Council on Education, it is still being touted as “a giant step forward” in supporting colleges and universities impacted by the coronavirus.
The $40 billion in relief to schools is part of a larger $1.9 trillion package intended to boost the economy, which is still reeling from the ongoing pandemic.
What’s in the Bill for Schools
The money from the COVID relief bill will be distributed to colleges and universities that will have to spend at least 50 percent of the amount on emergency grants for students.
Whether international and undocumented students will benefit from this provision is still unclear. Former education secretary Betsy DeVos stated that undocumented and international students would not qualify under this bill.
To support thousands of vulnerable students whose lives have been upended by the pandemic, schools are also required to put 20 percent of the money toward making up for lost ground as students have missed school.
Supporters of the bill say that it will make the cancellation of student loan debt easier for President Biden.
Some naysayers have argued that canceling student debt would saddle borrowers with surprise taxes. @SenatorMenendez and I took care of that in the relief bill by ensuring any student loan forgiveness will be tax-free – so let's #CancelStudentDebt. https://t.co/lo9347LvU7
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 9, 2021
Families holding loan debt were worried that should Congress or Biden cancel debt, borrowers would have to pay more in taxes. However, in the event of any debt cancellation, another amendment by the Senate would exempt any forgiven amount from federal taxes for the next five years.
“This clears the way for President Biden to #CancelStudentDebt without burdening student borrowers with thousands of dollars in unexpected taxes,” Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted on Sunday.
Speaking from the White House, President Biden stated that the COVID relief bill is “a signal that help is on the way” after the Senate passed its version of the bill on Saturday. “This democracy can still work,” he said.