CORONAVIRUS

Iowa universities getting more federal aid from second stimulus package

Smaller cut will go toward student financial aid

The Old Capitol Building on the Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (The Gazette)
The Old Capitol Building on the Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

Iowa’s three public universities are getting between 50 percent and 60 percent more federal aid from a second COVID stimulus package than from the original Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed last March.

The portion designated for student financial aid, however, is smaller this time.

Iowa State University officials are “still reviewing the funding guidance and do not yet have a breakdown for how the funds will be distributed,” according to ISU spokeswoman Angie Hunt.

In total, UI is getting nearly $25 million in federal support following December approval of a second stimulus package. That is about 54 percent more than the $16.2 million it got in the spring.

ISU is receiving $32.4 million from the second round of aid, nearly 50 percent more than the $21.7 million it received last year.

UNI is getting $12.1 million this time, up 59 percent from the $7.6 million in got in March.

The institutions had to use at least half their spring allocation on “emergency aid for students,” but the second federal package’s spending requirements are different. They stipulate the universities must “provide at least the same amount of funding in emergency financial aid grants to students” as was required under the first stimulus package.

Because all three of Iowa’s public universities are getting more money this time, the mandatory student aid cut is lower — if the campuses don’t spend more on direct student aid than the minimum.

Where dollars will go

UI officials have confirmed they’ve received $16.9 million of their second allocation for institutional support and $8.1 million for student aid — the same amount spent on student aid in the spring.

UNI officials told The Gazette they’ve received $8.27 million of their most recent allocation for institutional support and $3.81 million for student aid — which, like UI, is the same amount in the spring.

“We are in the process of planning the appropriate uses of the funding, according to the requirements,” UNI spokesman Steve Schmadeke told The Gazette.

UI officials this week announced they’re reviewing federal guidance for how to distribute the funds and “will share more information about the application process for receiving student aid when available.”

Last spring, the UI distributed its $8.1 million share of CARES Act funds via grants to 4,700 “eligible students experiencing financial difficulties related to COVID-19.”

The institutional money went to cover losses from canceled study abroad experiences; closed residence halls; curtailed recreation and Iowa Memorial Union programming and general use; and technology upgrades for expanded virtual instruction.

Iowa State distributed its $10.8 million for student aid last spring to 7,206 students. The institutional support covered losses from housing refunds, campus safety upgrades and technological needs.

Conditions on money

Guidance for the higher education portion of the newest COVID response relief highlights several changes from the CARES Act, including that institutions provide “the same amount” in student financial aid — rather than half the total.

“Because this law appropriates more funding … the department anticipates that, on average, a larger share of allocations will be available for institutional support than under the CARES Act.”

Other changes in the new act include a requirement institutions prioritize aid for students with “exceptional need,” like those who qualify for Pell Grant funding — although they don’t need to qualify to get a grant.

And, according to the federal guidance, institutions can’t condition financial aid on continued or future enrollment; use the grants to satisfy a student’s outstanding account balance, unless the student consents; or require such consent as a condition of getting the aid.

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“Institutions should carefully document how they prioritize students with exceptional need in distributing financial aid grants to students, as the department intends to establish reporting requirements regarding the distribution of financial aid grants,” according to the federal guidance.

Grant recipients can spend the money on “any component of the student’s cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise due to coronavirus, such as tuition, food, housing, health care (including mental health care) or child care.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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