CARES Act impacting accessibility for emergency financial aid for students

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Changes made to the CARES Act by the U.S. Department of Education are affecting which students can access emergency financial aid.

It's also sparked a lawsuit by California Community Colleges.

"The Department of Education issued guidelines that imposed eligibility restrictions that congress did not impose," says Matthew Besmer with the SCCCD General Counsel.

In Fresno, the State Center Community College District set aside $9.1 million of money received as part of the CARES Act to help 30,000 students across its six campuses.

A month later, the Department of Education brought their efforts to a halt.

"When Congress passed the law and when the president signed the law, there were no eligibility requirements for the emergency financial aid grants," Besmer said.

New restrictions were issued.

Only students eligible for federal financial aid under Title 4 of the Higher Education Act would be eligible, leaving out some military veterans, DACA and disabled students.

SCCCD can now only help about half of what they originally anticipated.

Now there's a fear it could lead to a drop in enrollment.

"If we have a drop in enrollment, that certainly has a funding impact on the community colleges," Besmer said.

Officials with the State Center Community College District tell us that litigation could take months to years.

Meanwhile, they are trying to help those students deemed ineligible through fundraising and other efforts.
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