SBCC Campus | Credit: Administrator Belanger

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $14 billion in economic relief to college students across the country, but according to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, undocumented students won’t see a cent.

DeVos finalized a decision via emergency rule on June 11 that bars undocumented students, including DACA and foreign students, from receiving any form of economic stimulus from the CARES Act. According to DeVos, “The CARES Act makes clear that this taxpayer-funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens,” though Congress made no such statement.

The ruling excludes 450,000 undocumented students in the higher education system, including nearly 2,500 UC Santa Barbara and SBCC students.

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UCSB’s Undocumented Student Services (USS), which works directly with DACA students, voiced support for students in response to the uncertainty surrounding the decision. “UC Santa Barbara will continue to work with campus and UC partners to provide support to UCSB undocumented students, regardless of the outcome of the DACA ruling,” the USS website stated in an update. This support includes financial, legal, and emotional support, as well as inclusion efforts.

In a June 11 interview, senior vice president at the American Council on Education Terry Hartle said the Department of Education’s ruling has caused “head-snapping uncertainty on college campuses” and caused “a complicated time-consuming process that is completely inconsistent with emergency grants.”

The $14 billion to higher education in the CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 27, went to colleges and universities, which were required to give half the money to students as emergency grant aid; the other half could be distributed at their choosing. Under the CARES Act language, the assistance was to “cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.”

DeVos’s restrictions stated students must be eligible for federal student financial aid under Title IV in order to be eligible for any CARES Act funding. Her decision is an interim final rule, with the official final rule yet to be published in the Federal Register, so it may not be the last word on the subject.

California Community Colleges filed suit last month against Secretary DeVos for what they say is her “arbitrary exclusion of hundreds of thousands of California community college students from access to CARES Act emergency aid.” U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers presided over a virtual hearing this week and blasted DeVos and The DOE for “putting roadblocks” in the way of a swift distribution of funds.

According to Politico, a decision could come as early as next week.

Additionally, California Community Colleges filed an injunction which reached a decision on June 17 stating that funds from the undocumented students cannot be excluded from funds provided by the CARES Act.

“Not only are undocumented students a wonderful asset,” said Luz Reyes-Martin, executive director of Public Affairs and Communications at SBCC, “many of them are veterans and parents, and it’s very important that funds are made available to them.”

In May, the SBCC Foundation announced an emergency grant program that provided an average of $800 to students who met the criteria announced by the Department of Education. This week, SBCC has announced a second round of the school’s Emergency Grant Program, which will now be open to all students, including undocumented and DACA students.

“SBCC is very lucky,” Reyes-Martin said. “No other community college is positioned with a foundation that could provide aid as quickly.”

At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor.  Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you  in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.


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