By:  Danielle Douglas-Gabriel
Source: The Washington Post

Biden administration urges colleges to use covid relief funds to meet students’ basic needs

The call comes as the Education Department issues new guidance on how schools can use the money to help with housing and food insecurity.

As the public health crisis continues to rattle college students, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and first lady Jill Biden are imploring schools to use pandemic relief funds to assist with housing, food and other basic needs.

“As I’ve traveled the country and spoken with students at all types of colleges and universities, I’ve heard them share heartbreaking struggles about finding safe and nurturing child care, concerns about not having regular access to nutritious meals, and fears about where they can sleep safely at night,” Cardona said at Bergen Community College in New Jersey on Thursday. “We can’t let basic-needs insecurity stand in the way of our students achieving their American Dream.”

The call to action comes as the Education Department is taking a three-prong approach to addressing the enduring impact of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable college students. The federal agency is making $198 million available through a competitive grant for colleges that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, encouraging recipients to use the money to tackle food and housing insecurity, among other things.

The department has separately issued guidance to colleges on ways they can use their existing congressional relief funds to help students facing scarcity. It is also letting schools use financial aid data to identify and communicate with students who may be eligible for public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Congress has provided a total of $76.2 billion for colleges and universities to pivot online, stave off steep financial losses and help students weather the public health crisis. Schools have been using the money for mental health services, clearing past-due tuition balances and emergency aid for students facing housing, employment and food insecurities.

Although college students faced basic-needs insecurity long before the emergence of the coronavirus, the pandemic exacerbated the problem, as many lost jobs and struggled to access support services. Even as the labor market rebounds and the strain on household budgets eases, data from the Census Bureau and elsewhere show young people are still having a difficult time affording food, shelter and child care.