The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has designated the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under section 483(a)(3)(E) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), as entities that may use Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) data. Under Section 483(a)(3)(E) of the HEA, data collected through the FAFSA may only be used for the application, award, and administration of HEA, Title IV program aid, State aid, or aid awarded by eligible institutions or entities designated by ED.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (Consolidated Appropriations Act), established the Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund and allocated $3.2 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of this program is to connect low-income households, especially households with school-aged children, to broadband networks at affordable rates. This temporary program will last six (6) months after the federally declared COVID-19 emergency ends or until funds have run out. In an effort to inform the higher education community and postsecondary education students of this benefit, ED designated FCC as an entity that supports the awarding of a Federal benefit program (aid) in the form of the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program for the purpose of receiving certain data from the FAFSA for a limited period.
The FAFSA data, specifically the receipt of the Federal Pell Grant, along with the FAFSA applicant’s email address, can be used to communicate with students about their possible eligibility for the EBB Program benefit.
This Electronic Announcement informs the community about ED’s designation of the FCC. ED will email students who are eligible for a Federal Pell Grant. Broadband providers may accept an email communication from ED to applicable students as documentation to verify receipt of the Federal Pell Grant in the 2020-21 or 2021-2022 award year. A student may provide a broadband provider a screenshot from the student’s StudentAid.gov profile that displays their receipt of the Federal Pell Grant or other means as determined by the IHE to serve as documentation that student received a Federal Pell Grant for the respective award year during which the COVID-19 pandemic occurred.
The designation permits IHEs to use FAFSA data to aid in the administration of the FCC’s EBB Program. However, institutions should limit data use to the necessary means directly related to the data required to inform their student population and verify a student’s receipt of the Federal Pell Grant. ED encourages IHEs to coordinate with campus stakeholders to inform their student population of this benefit during the COVID-19 emergency; especially knowing that students seeking assistance are likely facing technological limitations exacerbated by pandemic-related facility closures. IHEs should take steps to ensure the process to access resources and provide verification of recipient of the Federal Pell Grant are not made overly burdensome because of that same lack of broadband and technological resources.
For background information and guidance on the EBB Program, ED encourages IHEs and interested students see the FCC’s EBB Program Website: https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit
Note: The Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund is entirely separate from the Federal Communication Commission’s (Commission or FCC) Universal Service Fund and its programs to bring broadband to rural areas; schools and libraries; rural healthcare facilities; and low-income households.
Department of Labor (DOL) Designation
The American Rescue Plan (Pub. L. 117-2, § 9011) extended the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) program, first enacted as a part of the CARES Act in March of 2020, as well as other unemployment insurance benefits ending September 6, 2021. The PUA program allows individuals who otherwise may not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance to qualify for benefits if they have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and meet certain other requirements.
The PUA program may provide new access to assistance for students. In particular, the DOL guidance states that a full-time student who had been working part-time may be eligible for the PUA program, provided a full-time student who worked part-time is unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of one of the COVID-19 related reasons in section 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I) of the CARES Act, then they may be eligible for PUA. By designating the DOL as an entity administering aid through the PUA program, ED may provide information to students who may have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and may qualify for the benefit that will help cover unmet financial need. Specifically, the FAFSA applicant’s email address may be used to communicate with students about their possible eligibility for the PUA program benefit.
This designation permits IHEs to use FAFSA data to aid in the administration of the PUA program. However, institutions should limit FAFSA data use to the necessary data and means directly related to data required to inform their student population and if needed verify eligibility for the PUA program of an individual student. ED encourages IHEs to coordinate with campus stakeholders to inform their student population of this benefit during the COVID-19 emergency. Institutions may utilize a FAFSA applicant’s email address and other information to target and notify affected students that may be eligible for this benefit.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Designation
Executive Order 14009 on Strengthening Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, promulgated on January 28, 2021, directs HHS to consider “establishing a Special Enrollment Period for uninsured and under-insured Americans to seek coverage through the Federally Facilitated Marketplace.” Pursuant to that order, HHS has established a Special Enrollment Period that runs through August 15, 2021. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan also temporarily expands the financial assistance available for low- and moderate-income families to purchase insurance.
ED has designated HHS as an agency administrating aid through the Federally Facilitated Marketplace, and as such ED may provide students with information about financial assistance available and new options to enroll in health insurance coverage.
This designation permits IHEs to use FAFSA data to aid in the administration of the special enrollment period of the federal health insurance marketplace. However, institutions should limit FAFSA data use to the data and means directly related to inform their student population. ED encourages IHEs to coordinate with campus stakeholders to inform their student population of this benefit during the COVID-19 emergency.
Notwithstanding the Secretary of Education’s authority to designate entities under 483(a)(3)(e), such designations are not otherwise intended to alter, amend, or rescind any current statutory or regulatory authority now in effect. The content of this announcement is to inform the community of flexibilities afforded to institutions of higher education under the applicable aforementioned designations and will sunset at the conclusion of each respective benefit program as indicated by law and/or at the end of the federally declared COVID-19 emergency.
Institutions are reminded of their statutory and regulatory responsibilities to protect FAFSA data, including Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Institutions should exercise caution, to the fullest extent possible, when using FAFSA data to inform their student population and/or aid in verifying eligibility efforts for such programs. Unless otherwise noted above, institutions are required to adhere Section 483(a)(3)(e) of the HEA, as amended regarding the permissibility of FAFSA data use to the application, award, and administration of Title IV programs.