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Higher education emergency grants available for college students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many financial disruptions for students and young consumers and those who are pursuing a higher education. If you’re a college student who may need additional help financially, you may qualify for Federally funded emergency grants or other relief options from your college or university.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress in March 2020 to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of that law and other pieces of legislation passed by Congress, the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, or HEERF, was established. The HEERF includes a program administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) which allows colleges, universities, and other institutions to use a portion of the funding to provide emergency grants directly to students to help those who are experiencing financial difficulties from the COVID-19 pandemic.

These emergency grants can be used to cover expenses or costs from food, housing, course materials, technology needs, health care, or child-care expenses. If you’re experiencing financial difficulty, here is some information and resources for you on HEERF emergency grant funding:

Am I eligible to receive emergency grants through the HEERF program?

To qualify for funding from the HEERF program, you must have been a student enrolled in an eligible college or university on or after March 13, 2020, the date of declaration of the national emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. There are no additional requirements to qualify for an emergency grant funded by the HEERF program. Your college or university will determine which students should be prioritized to receive emergency grants.

To be eligible for an emergency grant funded by the HEERF grant program, the ED does not require you to:

  • Be eligible for financial aid;
  • File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA);
  • Qualify for the Pell Grant, even though schools are required to prioritize students who demonstrate exceptional need; or
  • Attend any specific courses or enroll in any specific programs.

You may be eligible for an emergency grant funded by the HEERF grant program regardless of whether you:

  • Are enrolled exclusively in distance or online education or if you attend an in-person course or program;
  • Are a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, an international or an undocumented student, refugee, asylum seeker, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient, other DREAMer, or similar undocumented student.
  • Are studying abroad.

How Do I Apply for a HEERF emergency grant?

You should contact the financial aid office at your school to learn more about your options and how to apply. ED does not directly award HEERF emergency grants to students, nor does any other federal agency. Students must contact their college or university financial aid office to request grant aid from the school’s HEERF allocation.

How can you use HEERF emergency grants?

You can use your emergency grants for any component of your cost of attendance or other emergency costs that came up due to the coronavirus pandemic including tuition, food, housing, health care (including mental health care) or child care. You get to control how you use your funds. Your college or university cannot direct or control how you may use your HEERF emergency grant.

BE ALERT: You have the ultimate determination on how your HEERF grant aid is used. A college or university cannot (1) condition the receipt of emergency grants on your continued or future enrollment, (2) use the emergency grants to satisfy outstanding account balances without your affirmative written consent, or (3) require your consent to apply the grant to an outstanding account balance as a condition of you getting a HEERF emergency grant.

Think an institution is misusing or abusing HEERF grant funds? Do not let emergency grant funding for schools and students end up in the wrong hands. File a complaint online with the Department of Education’s Inspector General (OIG) or call their Hotline.

How else can your school use their funds to support you?

In addition to providing emergency grants intended only for students, Congress also approved funding for public and private non-profit schools. Your school can use their portion of HEERF funding to discharge student debt owed directly to the school. Colleges and universities can discharge student debt or unpaid balances owed to their institution by discharging the complete balance of the debt as lost revenue and reimbursing themselves through their HEERF institutional grants. If you have any unpaid institutional debt, we encourage you to ask your college or university to use their institutional grants to cancel your debt, including any associated fees and penalties. Since this is considered lost revenue to the school and not an emergency grant, they do not need your permission to discharge your debt, but we encourage you to ask your school to do so.

This means you can ask to have these funds wipe out unpaid debt that you may owe to your college or university, including any unpaid balances that are keeping you from obtaining a copy of your transcript, enrolling in courses for the next term, or transferring to a new school. NOTE: You must have been enrolled at the institution on or after March 13, 2020.

I received an emergency grant through the HEERF. What else should I know?

Students who receive a HEERF emergency grant through their college or university from one of the HEERF programs may have questions about how that money should be reported in a number of situations.

  • Any HEERF emergency grants received should not be included in filing the FAFSA for the next year, nor should a school include it in calculating a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
  • HEERF emergency grants should not be included in your financial aid package. HEERF emergency grants are not financial aid.
  • HEERF emergency grants are not taxable and you should not include them in your income when you file your tax returns.

To learn more about HEERF grant funding, contact the financial aid office at your college or university. You can also visit the ED’s website for more information or email

The CFPB is committed to providing up-to-date information and resources to help you protect and manage your finances during this difficult time. To learn more about protecting your finances during the coronavirus pandemic visit

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