U.S. DOE Issues New Guidance for Use of COVID Relief Funds

Published: March 22, 2021

On March 19, the U.S. Department of Education provided new guidance seeking to resolve questions that have circulated since last spring regarding the appropriate use of COVID relief funds by institutions of higher education. Click here to read the new HEERF Guidance.

Since the adoption of the CARES Act, in March 2020, with its inclusion of support for colleges, universities and post-secondary students (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund or “HEERF I”), there have been persistent questions concerning the specific types of expenses that may be offset by COVID relief funds. More narrowly, guidance has been sought regarding how to define reimbursable “lost revenue” pursuant to the Act. Additional questions have arisen related to the allowable timing of reimbursable expenses, especially since the December passage of supplemental relief funding (“HEERF II”). The language of HEERF II states that expenses are deemed reimbursable only if “incurred on or after December 27, 2020,” which appears to exclude losses sustained from early in the pandemic. A third round of COVID relief funding for higher education institutions (“HEERF III”) was included in the American Rescue Plan, enacted on March 11, 2021.

Under the new guidance provided (click here to view the relief fund FAQs), the category of reimbursable lost revenues is defined with greater specificity, to include tuition, fees, room and board, enrollment losses, cancelled events, food and dormitory service expenses, bookstore revenues, parking fees, and others. The guidance further clarifies the period within which reimbursable expenses may have been incurred, dating to March 13, 2020, when the pandemic-related national emergency was declared. Click here to view the HEERF Notice of Interpretation.

The Department of Education guidance applies to funds issued under each of the three relief Acts, HEERF I, HEERF II and HEERF III. Click here for the HEERF COVID-19 Reference Page.

If you have questions regarding the allocation of relief funding for your institution or what expenses may qualify for reimbursement, contact the Steptoe & Johnson Higher Education Team for guidance.

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