House passes $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan which includes $27 billion for public colleges and universities

On Friday, May 15, the US House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act), a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, by a vote of 208-199 along mostly party lines, marking the start of an effort to pass a fourth emergency supplemental spending package in response to COVID-19.

The bill includes $100 billion for education, with $27 billion allocated to public institutions of higher education through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. Other allocations of these education funds include $1.4 billion to schools with “unmet needs” and up to $10,000 of student loan forgiveness per student loan borrower, which is applicable to all types of student loans. The bill would also enable DACA and international students to be eligible for all education funds, as well as retroactively make these students eligible for relief funds under the CARES Act, the third stimulus.

An interactive dashboard created by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU) Office of Data and Policy Analysis includes estimates of the amount of funds each eligible public university would receive under this bill as written. The University of Oregon would receive approximately $28 million of the $300 million distributed to Oregon institutions of higher education.

 APLU released a statement on the passage of the HEROES Act saying that the bill addresses some of the acute challenges facing public research universities.

“While short of APLU’s request, the funding would go a long way to support institutions essential to the public good. We appreciate the flexibility in the use of funds so institutions can adapt the federal support to the unique needs of their campus communities.”

The ALPU letter also expressed support for the bill’s extension of tax credits to help public colleges and universities pay for federally mandated coronavirus-related paid leave, which APLU said imposed “a massive unfunded mandate on these institutions at a time when they are faced with mounting financial challenges.”

However, APLU President Peter McPherson expressed concern that the bill is inadequate in providing sufficient relief for federal science agencies that support university research labs, noting that the bill’s allocation of funds to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) alone leaves out other research agencies.

“The bill’s funding for research ramp-down and ramp-up costs are inadequate, as it doesn’t match the need to ensure the nation’s scientific enterprise is positioned to lead to both coronavirus and other research efforts. We can’t afford to fall behind in these areas, which is exactly what will happen if Congress does not extend support for research beyond NIH.”

In a May 14 letter to House leadership by the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of American Universities (AAU) joined APLU and 29 other higher education organizations in offering support for the HEROES Act. The letter stated that “while significant needs remain,” the bill’s inclusion of increased funding for higher education institutions “will help alleviate the crippling financial impact posed by the coronavirus.”

The bill now awaits a vote by the Senate.