Frequently Asked Questions

Federal funding

How is Penn State awarding student emergency grants from its federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund allocation?

Penn State was allotted nearly $55 million from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was signed into law on March 27. Half of Penn State’s allocation – or approximately $27.5 million – is designated by law to be disbursed as emergency cash grants to students impacted by disruptions to campus operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Penn State is distributing these grants via two rounds of funding. In the first round, the University awarded grants up to $1,000 to more than 25,000 students, based on family income and other data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The University recently announced a second round of funding that will utilize an application process to award grants to students with qualifying expenses who were not identified to receive funding during the first round.

For answers to more frequently asked questions about the emergency grants, visit https://virusinfo.psu.edu/faq/topic/federal-funding.

To view Penn State’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund reporting information, visit https://opair.psu.edu/cares-act-information/.

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Students receiving grants during the first round of funding were notified of their award via their Penn State email account in May and had until June 30, 2020, to accept or decline the aid.

Students with qualifying expenses who were not identified to receive funding during the first round can now apply for a CARES Act emergency grant via a recently announced second round of funding.

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Students receiving aid in the first round of funding were required to certify in LionPATH that the funds will be used to cover eligible expenses they incurred as a result of disruptions to campus operations due to COVID-19. For the second round of funding, submission of an application serves as affirmation that a student has incurred qualifying expenses. As determined by Congress, eligible expenses include course materials, technology, food, housing, health care and child care.

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During the first round of funding, Penn State awarded cash grants of up to $1,000 based on family income and other information from the FAFSA, and recipients received a message in their Penn State email account notifying them of their award and how to accept it.

Penn State announced a second round of funding for students who were not identified to receive a grant in the initial round, subject to eligibility to receive federal student aid. Penn State has reserved approximately $2 million for this second round of funding, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis for students who incurred expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19.

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Penn State has awarded grants to more than 25,000 students during the first round of funding, representing approximately 23,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate, law and medical students from all physical Penn State campus locations. Additional students will receive aid during an application-based second round of funding that opened on June 15.

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The funds will be awarded to undergraduate, graduate, law and medical students at all Penn State campus locations, with the exception of World Campus. In accordance with federal requirements, students enrolled exclusively in online programs during the spring 2020 semester are not eligible for the emergency aid.

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The U.S. Department of Education and the CARES Act have provided higher education institutions with discretion on how to award the emergency assistance to students. In a letter to college and university presidents, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos encouraged institutions to prioritize funding for those students with the greatest need, while also distributing grants as widely as possible for maximum impact.

Penn State prioritized lower-income students utilizing data from their 2019-20 FAFSA for the initial round of grants. To make as wide of an impact as possible, students with lower family incomes, including our Pell Grant-eligible students, will receive up to $1,000 each. This allotment allows Penn State to quickly provide meaningful financial relief to students with the greatest need, while also reaching a significant number of students – more than 25,000 in all across every physical campus.

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All students, including graduating seniors, who were enrolled in on-campus classes on or after March 27 when the CARES Act was signed into law, and who meet eligibility criteria for federal student aid, will be considered for these funds.

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According to the IRS, CARES Act emergency financial aid grants are qualified disaster relief payments under the Internal Revenue Code and not considered taxable income.

The University encourages students to seek tax advice from a third-party provider regarding their individual tax situation.

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No. The emergency grants are not considered federal student aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act and will not affect a student’s other 2019-20 financial aid. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education encourages colleges and universities to exclude these grants from the calculation of a student’s financial need for future years.

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As determined by Congress, the emergency funds must be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus, including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care.

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As determined by Congress and the U.S. Department of Education, some students are ineligible to receive the emergency federal aid. This includes students enrolled exclusively in online programs, such as Penn State World Campus students. Students who do not meet the criteria to receive Title IV federal student aid, such as international students, also are not eligible to receive Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grants.

Other students may not have received a grant in the first round of funding because they did not complete a 2019-20 FAFSA, preventing the University from being able to determine their eligibility, or they did not meet the criteria for greatest financial need. Penn State recently announce a second round of funding for students who were not identified to receive a grant in the initial round, subject to eligibility to receive federal student aid. Penn State has reserved approximately $2 million for this second round of funding, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis for students who incurred expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19.

Recognizing that students who are not eligible for CARES Act funds may have experienced financial or personal hardships as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and that families’ financial pictures may have been altered by the pandemic, the University is encouraging any student with concerns related to COVID-19 to explore the resources provided by the Office of Student Care and Advocacy for assistance.

In addition, Complete Penn State provides resources such as financial aid for students who are within one or two semesters of completing their first associate or bachelor’s degree and experience a situation that negatively impacts their ability to complete their degree. Since the University began remote course delivery in mid-March, Complete Penn State has approved more than $470,000 in financial support for students. Eligible students in need of aid are invited to apply at success.psu.edu/complete. Complete Penn State is available to students at all Penn State campuses, including World Campus, and to domestic and international students.

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By signing the Certification and Agreement for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students, the University agreed to the Department of Education’s requirement that institutions promptly make these emergency financial aid grant funds available to students for their eligible expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. These limited funds are provided to students enrolled during the spring 2020 semester who have already incurred expenses.

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No. The emergency grants do not have to be paid back.

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The other half of Penn State’s allocation under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, approximately $27.5 million, will be used to help pay employees with a connection to the educational mission of the University per the guidance that funds should be used to address costs related to the “significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.”

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Penn State, like nearly every other higher education institution across the country, has been allocated emergency funding from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which is part of the CARES Act signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on March 27.

Penn State has been allocated about $55 million from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, half of which – or approximately $27.5 million – is directed by law to be distributed as emergency cash grants directly to students in need, which Penn State has begun awarding to certain students to pay for expenses incurred related to COVID-19 disruptions, including course materials and technology, food, housing, health care and child care. The other half, approximately $27.5 million, will be used to help pay employees with a connection to the educational mission of the University, per the guidance that funds should be used to address costs related to the “significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.”

It’s important to note that this funding, which comes from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, is completely separate from the small business Paycheck Protection Plan, though both were established by the CARES Act. None of the funding allocated to colleges and universities was intended by Congress or the president to go to small businesses.

The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund allocations are based on the number of Pell Grant recipients and full-time-equivalent (FTE) enrollment at each educational institution. Penn State has more than 19,000 Pell students and an FTE on-campus enrollment of more than 76,000 across our 24 campuses. Both of those numbers are among the highest in the country.

Penn State leadership appointed a task group that included Student Affairs, the Office of Student Aid, the Bursar, the Graduate School, our Commonwealth Campuses, general counsel, and additional broad representation to develop a plan for the distribution of these federal funds.

The University is grateful that the Department of Education prioritized this funding to support students who have the most need, which is supplementing our ongoing efforts to provide financial relief for our students who need it the most. Over the past decade, Penn State has prioritized access and affordability for our students, knowing that one-third of them are first-generation college students. Since the pandemic began, Penn State has received hundreds of applications from students for grants from our existing institutional emergency financial relief fund, and these additional funds have greatly expanded our efforts.

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