By Michael Bonner MassLive Staff | August 27, 2020
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Education seeking to block a Trump administration rule that stands to stop colleges and universities from financial aid grants to more than a million students nationwide, including immigrants who grew up in-state.
The 31-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, which names Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, challenges a rule explaining which students can receive financial aid grants from colleges and universities under the CARES Act. The COVID-19 law stipulates that higher education institutions must use at least half of the funds they received for emergency grants to students, but the rule excludes foreign-born students who grew up in the U.S.
“This is yet another senseless, cruel attempt from the Trump Administration to harm immigrant and other vulnerable students by blocking them from accessing relief under the CARES Act,” Healey said in a statement. “We are taking this action today to protect the tens of thousands Massachusetts students harmed by this rule and ensure they can access the assistance they need during this unprecedented public health crisis.”
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act was signed into law in March. It appropriated more than $30 billion to the Department of Education to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including about $14.3 billion to higher education institutions.
Colleges and universities that received CARES Act funding are expected to provide emergency grants to students, which are meant to help with food, housing and health care expenses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The DOE’s rule limits the grants to students who are eligible for financial aid under the federal Higher Education Act, even though Congress did not expressly state the grants must be limited to those students.
“Over a quarter century ago, President Clinton signed a law explicitly prohibiting and disqualifying foreign students and people not lawfully present in this country from receiving U.S. taxpayer funded grants,” DOE press secretary Angela Morabito statement. “CARES Act funds are most assuredly U.S. taxpayer funded grants. Congress did not direct the Department to give U.S. taxpayer dollars to wealthy students from China or Iran, nor authorize it to allow payments to be made from federal funds to students who are noncitizens.
“Colleges and universities retain the discretion to fund foreign students. They just cannot use U.S. federal taxpayer dollars in order to do so. Secretary DeVos and the Department will continue enforcing the law and implementing the CARES Act as it is written.”
The rule effectively excludes undocumented students, those with work authorization under Temporary Protected Status, those with pending asylum cases, international student visas and recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era permission for undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
The rule also excludes students who are pursuing their GED while enrolled in a college or university, who owe a refund on a federal loan or grant or have not maintained academic standing after two years of study, Healy said.
In the complaint, Healey asked the court to declare the new rule unlawful and block the DOE from attempting to impose it on colleges and universities.
“The U.S. Department of Education unfairly limits which students can receive emergency aid under the CARES Act,” UMass President Marty Meehan said in a statement. “If allowed to stand in the midst of a pandemic, deserving students will be forced to delay or end their education, and the Massachusetts workforce will be denied a valuable and diverse source of talent”
According to the complaint, the new rule excludes more than one million students from receiving aid nationwide, including tens of thousands of vulnerable students in Massachusetts.
In the complaint, Healey said that colleges and universities will likely experience a decline in enrollment and loss of revenue if aid is not made available to all students.
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