(CN) — A federal judge Wednesday blocked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attempt to withhold federal pandemic funds from students who did not qualify for financial aid.
The $1.8 trillion Covid-19 relief package, known as the CARES Act, set aside $12.6 billion in emergency aid for community colleges nationwide. The education fund was to be doled out at the discretion of the schools until Devos added provisions requiring that all the money must go to students who are eligible for financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.
Lead plaintiff Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the chancellor of California community colleges, claimed that Congress never intended to include the restrictions from financial aid imposed by DeVos.
“There is no provision of the CARES Act that imposes eligibility requirements on the students who may receive HEERF [Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund] Assistance. Moreover, Congress did explicitly limit eligibility for other forms of assistance in the CARES Act, while not doing the same for HEERF Assistance,” the complaint states.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granted a preliminary injunction to Oakley and a number of California community colleges who argued that DeVos was “arbitrarily placing eligibility restrictions on emergency relief funds.”
Judge Gonzalez Rogers was not persuaded by DeVos’s argument that “these purported harms are attributable to the pandemic itself and to plaintiffs’ own decisions about how to allocate funding, not Department of Education’s guidance.”
Rogers wrote: “Plaintiffs have demonstrated an immediate threatened injury arising out of the Department of Education’s interpretation of the CARES Act. The institutions of higher education face irreparable injury arising from the loss of future federal funding for violation of their certifications, as well as budget uncertainty and harm to their ability to carry out their institutional missions.”
Colleges were directed under the CARES Act to use emergency grants to pay for expenses such as rent, child care, technology and groceries due to disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Students who do not qualify for financial aid are largely made up of undocumented, international and DACA recipient students in addition to those with poor grades and previously defaulted student loans.
U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice issued a similar ruling in the Eastern District of Washington on June 12.