Federal Aid for College and Research Libraries During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Alan Inouye and Kevin Maher. Alan is Senior Director, Public Policy and Government Relations, and Kevin is Deputy Director, Government Relations, at ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office.

Budget cuts for college and research libraries are in the offing at many institutions and in some cases, reductions are already taking place. There is a lot of talk about federal aid, both what’s already available and being proposed. In this post, we make a down payment towards explaining what has happened and what may come to pass.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L.116-136), passed last month, includes $30.8 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund. The majority of the Stabilization Fund reserved for institutions of higher education (IHE) centers around student aid and encourages maximum flexibility. Hundreds of colleges and universities have applied for support under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. While the majority of this funding must be directly disbursed to students, as much as 49% may be expended [to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus,] with only a few constraints.

Thus, advocacy within your institution is needed so that the library may obtain a share of this funding. As with all advocacy, you must have compelling ideas and a proposal that articulates your needs—making the argument why should the library receive a share based upon the role your library has played helping to support any changes to the delivery of instruction within your institution. You’ll also want to exercise your relationships within the institution to obtain intelligence and exert influence to steer some of these funds to the library.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently announced that it was providing additional flexibility to institutions relating to the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program. This includes the ability for IHEs to continue to pay FWS wages to students for the remainder of the current academic year in instances in which those students’ jobs were interrupted as a result of the pandemic, as long as those students had started employment prior to this national emergency. The CARES Act also waives the non-federal wage match requirement for institutional and non-profit employers of FWS students. Additional guidance for Interruptions of Study Related to Coronavirus, is available from ED.

In addition, last week, ED announced the availability of $1.04 billion in funding for minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and $349 million for institutions of higher education with the greatest unmet need through the Education Stabilization Fund. The CARES Act reserved 7.5% (MSI funding) and 2.5% (IHEs with unmet need) of higher education funding through the Education Stabilization Fund for these purposes. ED notes in its cover letter that IHEs receiving funds through either of these funding streams have more flexibility on disbursing the funds than other IHEs.

The funding for MSIs will be distributed through MSI programs in the Higher Education Act (HEA) in the same proportion as funding was provided for those programs in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 appropriations bill. MSIs will have to fill out and submit a Certification and Agreement in order to receive funds, and allocations that MSIs will receive can be found on this webpage.

The funding for IHEs with the greatest unmet need will be distributed to public and nonprofit IHEs (ED is not making this funding available to for-profit IHEs) that received less than $500,000 in other Education Stabilization Funds so that such IHEs receive $500,000. The allocations for IHEs can be found here, and the methodology for calculating allocations can be found here. In order to receive funds, IHEs must fill out and submit a Certification and Agreement. Bringing all public and nonprofit IHEs up to $500,000 in Education Stabilization Funding leaves $15 million of the $349 million remaining, which ED will use for a grant competition for IHEs with the greatest unmet need, to be announced at a later date.

Finally, student loan relief is addressed in CARES in several ways. ED is suspending payments on federal student loans until September 30, 2020, and no interest would accrue during this period of suspension, with limited exceptions.

Months for which payments are suspended will be deemed as counting for the purposes of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), other loan forgiveness programs and for those borrowers who are rehabilitating their loans. Involuntary collections are suspended.

As part of the CARES Act, libraries received $50 million through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). $30 million was distributed by the Institute for Museum and Library Service (IMLS) to state library agencies to support the expansion of Internet access in communities, which will help the distance learning needs. Soon, IMLS will announce the disbursement of the remaining $20 million in competitive grants, presenting an opportunity for college and research libraries.

ALA advocated for passage of the CARES Act and multiple other possibilities for library relief. Of course, much more policy and advocacy remain to be done, both in the immediate term and the long run. The ALA Public Policy and Advocacy Office welcomes perspectives on the needs of college and research libraries. We encourage you to provide input through appropriate ACRL channels or to reach out to us directly. Much about the post-pandemic future of libraries is uncertain, but we are certain that the units of ALA working together can make a real difference towards mitigating the effects of the pandemic and building for the future.