On Mar. 11, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law, exactly one year after the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. The $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus bill, designed to alleviate the economic and health effects of the pandemic, included an increased child tax credit, $1,400 stimulus checks, boosted unemployment benefits and billions for vaccine distribution.
It also included $40 billion for higher education – a hefty sum, almost three times as much as the amount given to colleges in the first COVID bill, the CARES Act.
According to Kent Dyer, Muhlenberg’s Chief Business Officer & Treasurer, the College will receive approximately $4,000,000 from the American Rescue Plan. This is not the official sum — the Department of Education has not released the final allocation figures — but instead was calculated for Muhlenberg by the American Council on Education, a higher education association located in Washington, D.C. Of this sum, half must be used to fund emergency need-based financial aid grants to students, according to the bill’s writing. This will mean greater financial aid for students, especially those whose parents have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
The other $2 million, according to Dyer, will be “for institutional purposes and may be used for COVID related costs (i.e. testing, contract tracing) and lost revenue due to COVID.” Dyer made it clear that the way these funds will be distributed is still unknown and will be recommended by a small committee in the future.
“We are waiting for additional guidance,” Dyer said.
“The U.S. Department of Education has yet to begin the process of distributing the American Rescue Plan Act funds to institutions of higher education. From our understanding, the Department is still finishing disbursing funds from the December COVID relief package. A small committee is reviewing guidance as it is made available and will make a recommendation to senior staff.” Dyer explained.
According to Dyer, this committee consists of members from the Business Office, Financial Aid Office, Advancement Office and Student Affairs Office. The committee has been in touch with other college institutions to see how they are handling distributions and reviewing material provided by the U.S. Department of Education and professional associations.
Last May, President Harring admitted in a community letter that the pandemic had cost the College $3 million and that the College would have to furlough 25% of its staff for varying time periods between May and July. It is unclear what will qualify as what Dyer describes as “institutional purposes,” but students should not get their hopes up about tuition cuts.