WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), led 12 of her Senate colleagues in a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, calling on the Department to immediately rescind a rule that disproportionately denies emergency grant aid to student veterans.

Congress worked diligently to pass the CARES Act in a bipartisan manner providing more than $6 billion in discretionary funding to institutions of higher education and emergency financial aid to students most affected by the pandemic, regardless of veteran status or eligibility for Title IV aid under the Higher Education Act. Congress intended to provide flexibility to institutions to determine how to distribute funding among all students, in order to support the needs and best interests of all students during the pandemic,” wrote the Senators. “Instead, the Department’s interim final rule restricts aid to students, blocking critically needed aid to those students who are not already eligible for Title IV federal student aid, generally requiring completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This rule excludes a large number of students, and particularly student veterans who don’t generally pursue Title IV aid because they have access to GI Bill benefits.”

Our veterans have served our country proudly and deserve all the resources available to them to pursue higher education, especially during this challenging time in our country. We ask the Department to immediately rescind this interim final rule that disregards a large number of veteran and military-connected students and instead support all students, including our veterans,” the Senators’ letter concludes.

“We want to thank Senator Rosen and her colleagues in the Senate for reinforcing the importance of access to emergency financial grants under the CARES Act for student veterans,” said James Haynes, Federal Policy Manager, Veterans Education Success. “The interim final rule proposed by Secretary DeVos is a disservice to veterans because it requires students to be eligible for Title IV aid. Student veterans are less likely than non-veterans to file a FAFSA to receive Title IV aid as they have other educational benefits like the GI Bill. This interim rule may delay or preclude veterans from receiving these emergency financial grants during a time when many are experiencing serious financial distress due to the ongoing pandemic. We hope Secretary DeVos corrects this promptly to ensure veterans, servicemembers, and their families are not harmed.”

BACKGROUND: This letter is supported by the Student Veterans of America and Veterans Education Success.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary DeVos:

We write to express our significant concern with your interim final rule on student eligibility for emergency financial aid under the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and note its disproportionate and damaging impact on nearly 200,000 student veterans. We are deeply troubled by the U.S. Department of Education’s (“Department”) inaccurate interpretation that, “Congress intended the category of those eligible for ‘emergency financial aid grants to students’ in section 18004 of the CARES Act to be limited to those individuals eligible for title IV assistance.”

Congress worked diligently to pass the CARES Act in a bipartisan manner providing more than $6 billion in discretionary funding to institutions of higher education and emergency financial aid to students most affected by the pandemic, regardless of veteran status or eligibility for Title IV aid under the Higher Education Act. Congress intended to provide flexibility to institutions to determine how to distribute funding among all students, in order to support the needs and best interests of all students during the pandemic. Instead, the Department’s interim final rule restricts aid to students, blocking critically needed aid to those students who are not already eligible for Title IV federal student aid, generally requiring completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This rule excludes a large number of students, and particularly student veterans who don’t generally pursue Title IV aid because they have access to GI Bill benefits. 

Veterans organizations, including the Student Veterans of America and Veterans Education Success, have expressed concerns with the Department’s guidance prior to this interim final ruling and wrote to you in May, giving you ample time to correct this problem in advance and ensure that our nation’s student veterans receive the aid that they so desperately need. Despite this, the Department still has not considered this feedback or reconsidered its position that disproportionately denies emergency financial aid grants to veteran and military-connected students. As the groups’ letter notes, according to the Department’s 2015-16 survey data, almost half of student veterans who attend a community college do not apply for federal student aid, and about two-thirds of undergraduate veterans at four-year institutions do not fill out the FAFSA.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all students, regardless of their veteran status or Title IV federal student aid eligibility. All students have experienced disruption to their campus life along with financial distress, including student veterans. Cutting off aid to our student veterans is unconscionable; even asking these students to complete additional paperwork and holding up their relief during a pandemic is unnecessarily burdensome. Congress is currently considering additional funding to assist in COVID-19 recovery, including for emergency financial aid to students, and the Department must not stand in the way of such relief flowing to student veterans. Therefore, the interim final rule must be rescinded. 

Our veterans have served our country proudly and deserve all the resources available to them to pursue higher education, especially during this challenging time in our country. We ask the Department to immediately rescind this interim final rule that disregards a large number of veteran and military-connected students and instead support all students, including our veterans.

We also request that you immediately inform Congress of how you will ensure that veteran and military-connected students can access the same CARES Act resources as other students so they can pursue their higher education. 

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this important request.

Sincerely,

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