On May 11, 2021, the Department of Education (DoEd) released an updated set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III) grants under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Notably, the FAQs reverse a narrow position that had been taken by DoEd under the former Trump administration, and the policy now allows "Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students" as well as "international students" to receive HEERF grants.

The policy guidance in the May 11, 2021 FAQs was followed up by a DoEd final rule published in the Federal Register on May 14, 2021.

Students "who are or were enrolled in an institution of higher education on or after" March 13, 2020 are eligible for HEERF emergency financial aid grants "regardless of whether they completed a FAFSA or are eligible for Title IV." However, the FAQs remind schools that the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA) "requires that institutions prioritize students with exceptional need, such as students who receive Pell Grants or are undergraduates with extraordinary financial circumstances, in awarding emergency financial aid grants to students." In addition, the FAQs encourage institutions "to prioritize domestic students, especially undergraduates, in allocating this funding. This includes citizens, permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers, DACA recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students," before considering international students.

FAQ 8 deals with students studying in the United States, and FAQ 9 deals with students studying abroad:

8. Question: May undocumented students and international students receive HEERF?

Answer: Yes. The Department's final rule on student eligibility for HEERF states that all students who are or were enrolled in an institution of higher education during the COVID-19 national emergency are eligible for emergency financial aid grants from the HEERF, regardless of whether they completed a FAFSA or are eligible for Title IV. That includes citizens, permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students.

International students may also receive HEERF. However, as noted in Questions 11 and 12, institutions must ensure that funds go to students who have exceptional need. The Department encourages institutions to prioritize domestic students, especially undergraduates, in allocating this funding. This includes citizens, permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers, DACA recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students.

9. Question: Can students who are studying abroad receive HEERF emergency financial aid grants?

Answer: Yes. Students studying abroad may receive HEERF emergency financial aid grants from the recipient institution where they are enrolled. These students must meet the criteria based on prioritizing exceptional need that the institution has established for distributing its HEERF emergency financial aid grants.

FAQ 11 addresses the requirement that a school prioritize for exceptional need, and other eligibility requirements.

11. Question: What are the requirements for making emergency financial aid grants to students?

Answer: Students who are or were enrolled in an institution of higher education on or after the date of the declaration of the national emergency due to the coronavirus (March 13, 2020) are eligible for emergency financial aid grants from the HEERF, regardless of whether they completed a FAFSA or are eligible for Title IV. The CRRSAA requires that institutions prioritize students with exceptional need, such as students who receive Pell Grants or are undergraduates with extraordinary financial circumstances, in awarding emergency financial aid grants to students.

Beyond Pell eligibility, other types of exceptional need could include students who may be eligible for other federal or state need-based aid or have faced significant unexpected expenses either for themselves or that would affect their financial circumstances, such as the loss of employment, reduced income, or food or housing insecurity. In addition, the CRRSAA explicitly states that emergency financial aid grants to students may be provided to students exclusively enrolled in distance education provided they have exceptional need.

The Department encourages institutions to prioritize domestic students, especially undergraduates, in allocating this funding. Domestic students include citizens, permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers, DACA recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students. Institutions may not (1) condition the receipt of emergency financial aid grants to students on continued or future enrollment in the institution, (2) use the emergency financial aid grants to satisfy a student's outstanding account balance, unless it has obtained the student's written (or electronic), affirmative consent, or (3) require such consent as a condition of receipt of or eligibility for the emergency financial aid grant. Institutions should carefully document how they prioritize students with exceptional need in distributing emergency financial aid grants to students, as the Department is exploring reporting requirements regarding the distribution of emergency financial aid grants to students (see 2 CFR § 200.334).