U.S. Senate introduces Phase IV COVID relief package

On July 27, US Senate Republicans released the much-anticipated phase IV for COVID relief. The Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protections, and Schools (HEALS) Act is made up eight separate bills, the package addresses a range of policy and funding issues.

Some of the most relevant provisions that impact the University of Oregon and other universities include:

  • $29.1 billion in support of higher education institutions, with allocations to each institution based on formulas related to the full-time equivalent enrollments of students receiving the federal Pell grant. The allocation counts 90 percent Pell students and 10 percent non-Pell students; the CARES Act counted 75 percent Pell/25 percent non-Pell. The US House-passed HEROES Act uses a head count approach.
  • The legislation provides significant flexibility to institutions in use of funds and does not require a designated percentage for emergency grants to students.
  • As a condition of receiving funding, HEALS requires states to maintain their overall support to institutions of higher education and need-based financial aid in FY20 and FY21 at least at proportional levels to state funding based on FY19
  • The bill provides $10.1 billion in supplemental appropriations to the National Institutes of Health for research relief, however, broad support for other research agencies is not included.
  • The bill continues a harmful trend of excluding state entities from eligibility for tax benefits, including:
    • No fix for the paid leave tax credit. 
    • An enhanced employee retention tax credit that increases the reimbursement rate but continues to exclude state entities.
    •  A new “safe and healthy workplace tax credit” to cover expenses such as testing and PPE that excludes state entities.
  • The bill includes no support for state and local governments.
  • The bill includes additional funds for testing.

Higher education association leaders stated appreciation for the bill’s attention to the needs of students and institutions but noted the bill needs to do more to address significant shortfalls. Association of American Universities (AAU) President Mary Sue Coleman stated “while I applaud the Senate Republicans’ efforts to introduce a comprehensive package of legislation to address the many issues that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic, this bill falls significantly short of what is needed for students and research universities.” Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson said “we appreciate critical support for higher education in the Senate Republican package, but a lot more must be done as the legislative process moves forward. The $29 billion in emergency funding for higher education will help colleges and universities with unprecedented financial challenges. Additional support is needed to address massive expenses to prioritize safety on campus, help financially stabilize institutions suffering from precipitous declines in revenue, and provide critical support to students.”

AAU, APLU and coalition partners continue to seek $47 billion for support to institution for higher education and $26 billion in research workforce and disruption mitigation support across multiple federal agencies.

COVID relief bill negotiations between the Senate, House and the White House are ongoing. Democratic leaders are unlikely to agree to a deal unless the package more closely resembles the $3.4 trillion measure (the HEROES Act) passed by the House in May.