CARES Act: Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund

Section 18004(e) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act ("CARES Act" or the "Act")), Pub. L. No. 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (March 27, 2020), directs institutions receiving funds under Section 18004 of the Act to submit a report to the US Secretary of Education describing the use of funds distributed from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

As required by the CARES Act and in compliance with guidance from the US Department of Education (the "Department"), Columbia University reports here its use of the Emergency Financial Aid Grants to students. The Department's May 6, 2020 guidance (as updated by 85 Fed. Reg. 53802-53804) identified seven topics on which each institution receiving funding must report. The Department's requirements appear in bold below and the University's response to these are immediately afterwards.

  1. An acknowledgement that the institution signed and returned the Certification and Agreement form and the assurance that the institution has used, or intends to use, no less than 50 percent of the funds received under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act to provide HEERF grants to students.

    The University hereby acknowledges that it signed and returned to the Department the Certification and Agreement and the assurance that the institution has used no less than 50 percent of the funds received under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act to provide Emergency Financial Aid Grants to students.
  2. The total amount of funds that the institution will receive or has received from the Department pursuant to the institution's Certification and Agreement [for] Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students.

    Columbia University has received $6,415,100 from the Department pursuant to the institution's Certification and Agreement for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students.
  3. The total amount of Emergency Financial Aid Grants distributed to students under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act as of the date of submission (i.e., as of the initial report and every calendar quarter thereafter).
     

    As of September 30, 2020, the date of the last required reporting update, the University had not yet formally finalized its acceptance of the funds and made no distributions.
    As of December 31, 2020, the student portion of the funds not yet distributed but had been formally announced, and communications from schools to students initiated.
    As of March 31, 2021, Columbia University distributed $6,415,100 in Emergency Financial Aid grants to eligible students.

  4. The estimated total number of students at the institution eligible to participate in programs under Section 484 in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and thus eligible to receive Emergency Financial Aid Grants to students under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act.
     

    In the Fall term of 2020, the University has 11,335 students who have filed a FAFSA form, which most readily demonstrates eligibility under section 484 as described above. For HEERF CARES Act funding, eligible students must be US citizens and eligible non-citizens who are eligible to participate in US Federal Financial Aid. 

  5. The total number of students who have received an Emergency Financial Aid Grant to students under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act.
     

    As of September 30, 2020, the date of the last required reporting update, the University had not yet formally finalized its acceptance of the funds and made no distributions.
    As of December 31, 2020, the student portion of the funds not yet distributed but had been formally announced, and communications from schools to students initiated.
    As of March 31, 2021, a total of 4,181 students have received an Emergency Financial Aid grant.

  6. The method(s) used by the institution to determine which students receive Emergency Financial Aid Grants and how much they would receive under Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act.
     

    The University allocated the majority of the funds to undergraduate students and a smaller segment for the students of professional and graduate schools at Columbia, generally in keeping with the methodology of the US Department of Education's allocation to Columbia. Each school's financial aid office disbursed the funds in compliance with the terms of the CARES Act. Students were invited to apply for emergency funding opportunities by their school's financial aid office in order to assist with eligible expenses, as described under the CARES Act, which include food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and childcare. Priority was given to eligible students with substantial need or demonstrating extenuating circumstances due to the pandemic as reviewed by the appropriate school financial aid office. In certain circumstances, when such students did not qualify for the CARES funding under the terms of the Act, they were considered for other institutional funding. Most individual emergency grants to students were between $500 and $ 2,000; but, in certain exceptional cases, awards have exceeded this, and are not more than $3,000.

  7. Any instructions, directions, or guidance provided by the institution to students concerning the Emergency Financial Aid Grants.
     

    Information was provided to students by their home school and included instructions on how to apply. Applications included a certification that the funds would be used for allowable expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. Examples of allowable expenses, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, include food, housing, course materials, technology, transportation, health care, and child care. Students also certified that if they were unable to use the funds, they would contact their financial aid office. The University also provided students with answers to Frequently Asked Questions, which are available on this same webpage, on eligibility, how funds will be disbursed, what funds can be used for, and other pertinent information.

    The quarterly report for April 2021, which covers all Emergency Financial Aid grant distributions made through March 31, 2021, comprises all remaining HEERF fund expenditures for Section 18004(a)(1) Student Portion funds under the CARES Act. Therefore, subsequent quarterly public reporting of Section 18004(a)(1) Student Portion funds is not required.

Institutional funding

In addition, the University has signed and returned a certification agreement for the Institutional portion of the funding. Quarterly reporting can be found here:
 

October 2020 Reporting

January 2021 Reporting

April 2021 Reporting

 

Frequently asked questions

  • Has the University accepted this HEERF CARES Act funding?

    Yes, the University has accepted the HEERF CARES funding and is working to contact eligible students to apply. Your school's financial aid office will contact students who are being invited to apply for funding, although information will be coming after the New Year, the week beginning January 4, 2021. Disbursements, accordingly, will not occur until after this date.  
     
  • How will I know if I am eligible to apply?

    For HEERF CARES ACT funding, eligible students must be US citizens and eligible non-citizens who are eligible to participate in US Federal Financial Aid. 
    If a student has filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), then the student has demonstrated eligibility to participate in programs under Section 484 of the HEA. Students who have not filed a FAFSA but who are eligible to file a FAFSA also may receive emergency financial aid grants. 
    Your school's financial aid office will contact students who are being invited to apply for funding, although information will be coming after the New Year, the week beginning January 4, 2021. Disbursements, accordingly, will not occur until after this date. 
     
  • Who do I contact for questions about an application?

    Your school's financial aid office will contact students who are being invited to apply for funding, although information will be coming after the New Year, the week beginning January 4, 2021. Disbursements, accordingly, will not occur until after this date. 
     
  • Do I have to repay the funding I receive through the CARES Act? 

    No. The funds provided by the CARES Act are grants, so they do not need to be repaid. 
     
  • I am a student who received a financial aid grant through the CARES Act. Is this grant includible in my gross income? 

    No. According to the Internal Revenue Service, “Emergency financial aid grants under the CARES Act for unexpected expenses, unmet financial need, or expenses related to the disruption of campus operations on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as unexpected expenses for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, or childcare, are qualified disaster relief payments under section 139.” For more information please visit:  https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/faqs-higher-educationemergency-relief-fund-and-emergency-financial-aid-grants-under-the-cares-act.
     
  • What can emergency financial aid grants provided by the CARES Act be used for?

    Emergency financial aid grants to students can be used for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student's cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care). 
     
  • How will emergency funds be made available?

    Funds will be paid directly to students via direct deposit or check.  We strongly encourage students to register for direct deposit to avoid delays. Instructions to do so are available here.  Students not registered for direct deposit will have checks mailed to their mailing address in SSOL.
     
  • I have a balance on my Columbia account, how will the CARES Act funding affect this?

    The intent of this funding is to provide emergency assistance to students. The funding will not be applied to any balance you may have on your Columbia account. The funding will be provided directly to you by direct deposit or check.
     
  • Will the CARES Act grant affect my eligibility for financial aid?

    No, this funding will not affect your current or future financial aid eligibility.
     
  • I am an international student and in need of financial assistance. Is HEERF CARES Act funding available to me?

    If you are an international student in need of emergency financial assistance because of unanticipated expenses that you incurred as a result of the pandemic, please contact your school’s financial aid office.