The Trump administration on Tuesday prohibited undocumented college students from receiving emergency federal cash assistance for expenses like food, child care and housing.
The economic rescue law passed by Congress gives $6 billion to colleges to dole out to students for expenses stemming from the disruption on campuses caused by the pandemic. But Education Department officials in new guidance said the money can go only to students who qualify for federal financial aid — U.S. citizens and some legal permanent residents.
That prevents undocumented students from accessing the money, although the law includes no explicit restrictions on which students could receive the emergency grants.
The group that won't receive assistance includes hundreds of thousands of members of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has provided work authorization and deportation protections for undocumented people who were illegally brought to the United States as children or overstayed a visa. The Supreme Court is considering whether the program should continue and is expected to issue a decision by June.
Aides to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she is following the economic relief law. “The CARES Act makes clear that this taxpayer funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law,” Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill said in a statement.
The Education Department's $6 billion for the cash grants has been slow to reach campuses and and officials have traded accusations with college leaders over the pace of the rollout. As of last week, less than 1 percent of the money had been distributed by the Education Department.
Higher education leaders had specifically asked the Education Department for advice on whether they could use the money to assist DACA recipients.
But the guidance released on Tuesday makes clear that undocumented students cannot receive any of the education stimulus money.
The policy says that students must have filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or at least be eligible to file the form, known as the FAFSA — in order to be eligible for the emergency aid. Undocumented students are not eligible for most types of financial aid provided by the federal government, though they qualify for assistance under some state-based financial aid programs.
The Education Department also said that colleges must provide the emergency cash grants only to students who were studying, at least partially, at physical campuses. Students enrolled in an exclusively online program before the coronavirus pandemic are prohibited from receiving money under the program, according to the guidance.