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US Education Department Bars Many Students from Emergency Aid


FILE - Demonstrators arrive in front of the US Supreme Court for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) on November 10, 2019 in Washington D.C. The DACA students are barred from getting emergency aid.
US Education Department Bars Many Students from Emergency Aid
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Last week, United States officials announced a decision that affects most international students and all Dreamers.

The term “Dreamer” means immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. They are permitted to stay under the government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

President Donald Trump’s administration decided to bar these students from getting emergency aid. The aid is part of a nearly $2 trillion government program. The U.S. Congress approved the money to help people and businesses hurt by the coronavirus crisis.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put the restriction in new federal guidelines released last week. These rules tell colleges and universities how to give out more than $6 billion in aid grants. The money is supposed to help students pay for costs resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus response briefing as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue listen at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus response briefing as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue listen at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


Earlier guidance from the Department of Education suggested schools would have fewer restrictions on how to give out the monies. But the new guidelines said that only students who can receive other federal student aid can get this assistance.

University officials and immigrant groups denounced the decision. They said DeVos is setting limits that were not included in the congressional legislation. The aid package did not identify which students can get the grants. And many colleges had planned to give the grants to needy students, whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

Because of the change, some highly respected universities are rejecting the federal money. Princeton University announced that it would refuse its $2.4 million share of the coronavirus aid package. Harvard University is rejecting its $8.7 million in aid.

The Education Department said its guidance is worded like other federal laws. It noted the Higher Education Act, a law that says only U.S. citizens and a small group of non-citizens can get federal student aid. Angela Morabito, a department representative, said the rescue legislation makes clear that this relief money “should be targeted to U.S. citizens.”

But some higher education activists disagree with that claim. The American Council on Education is an organization of college presidents. It says the rescue package placed no limits on student eligibility.

The guidelines have created misunderstandings about exactly which students can receive the grants, says Terry Hartle, one of the council’s leaders. It is clear the Education Department is leaving out immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally and international students, he added. But it is unclear how schools should define eligibility. Most colleges do not ask students if they are U.S. citizens, he said, and officials have no easy way to find out. “A college could give an emergency grant to a Dreamer without realizing the person is a Dreamer,” Hartle said.

At the University of California, Riverside, officials had been planning to give grants to some of the school’s estimated 600 Dreamers. Now, those officials are looking for other ways to help students blocked by the Education Department guidelines.

Student activists see DeVos’ action as a major change from her earlier guidance. When DeVos made the aid available in early April, she said colleges would be given the chance to decide how to award the grants. She told college officials to help the neediest students. And in documents that colleges sign to receive the grants, the Education Department says the money is not considered federal financial aid.

That earlier guidance led some schools to believe the grants were not subject to citizenship requirements.

Sara Goldrick-Rab is a professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University in Pennsylvania. She says the new restrictions are hard on students who were expecting the grants to pay for food, housing and other costs. It is also unfair to colleges that now must move quickly to amend plans for giving out the aid.

Losing access to the grants will likely force some students to leave school, Goldrick-Rab said. She noted this is especially true for students whose families are dealing with unemployment from the pandemic.

Critics say the policy is especially unjust because the students now blocked from receiving grants were counted in the math used to decide on money for schools. The rescue package provided $14 billion for the nation’s colleges and universities. Each was offered an amount based on its student population and the percentage of students from poorer backgrounds.

The United We Dream Network, which campaigns for Dreamers, said it was “callous” of DeVos to block so many students from getting the aid. Sanaa Abrar, the group’s advocacy director, urged Congress and colleges to find other ways to help students affected by DeVos’ directive.

I’m Alice Bryant.

The Associated Press reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

guideline - n. a rule or instruction that shows or tells how something should be done

pandemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area

grant - n. money that is given to someone by a government or organization to be used for a particular purpose

eligibility - n. the state of having the right to do or get something by meeting the appropriate conditions

access - n. a way of being able to use or get something

callous - adj. not feeling or showing any concern about the problems or suffering of other people

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