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Congress passes American Rescue Plan Act for COVID-19 relief

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

School Finance Congress | Federal COVID-19

Date Posted: 3/11/2021

Delivering on one of President Joe Biden's top campaign priorities, Congress gave final approval this week to H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The $1.9 trillion bill provides stimulus payments for many individuals, extended unemployment benefits, expansion of the child tax credit, aid to small businesses, more funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, renters' assistance, and over $125 billion in appropriations for schools.

The president signed the bill Thursday, March 11, a day ahead of his originally announced plan for a White House signing ceremony on Friday. Biden will address the nation in a prime-time speech Thursday night and is expected to share more detail on his plans for swift implementation of the relief bill.

According to ATPE's federal lobby team, the bill's education provisions include $122.8 billion for grants to help states support their local school districts and other local educational agencies in addressing learning loss. School districts would have to use at least 20% of that funding for summer learning or enrichment, after-school programs, or extended-day or extended-year programs. The rest could be used for a number of education-related expenses, such as improvement of school facilities' air quality, mental health services, and the purchase of technology.

There is some language in the bill aimed at preventing states from using the funds to supplant state appropriations. States that receive the federal grants cannot reduce their spending levels on education as a proportion of their budgets during fiscal year 2022 or 2023, compared with the average level from fiscal years 2017 through 2019. Restrictions would also apply to per-pupil spending reductions in high-need and high-poverty school districts.

Within 30 days of receiving the new federal funds, school districts will be required to publish a plan for a safe return to in-person learning. This particular provision of the bill is less significant for schools in Texas that already faced state requirements to re-open their facilities for in-person instruction earlier this school year.

The bill directs the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to use at least $800 million to identify homeless children and provide them with wraparound services to help them attend school. ED will also receive:

  • $3.03 billion for grants and programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • $2.75 billion to support non-public schools.
  • $850 million to support outlying U.S. territories.
  • $190 million for grants to educational organizations serving American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives.
  • $100 million for research on pandemic-related learning loss.
Unfortunately, the bill as passed does not include a mandate for employers to provide an extension of the paid sick and family medical leave benefits that were required in 2020 under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. ATPE has been lobbying for Congress to reinstate the requirement to help school employees who may not have enough leave to use during forced quarantines, illness, or caring for family members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of a mandate, the bill extends through September 30, 2021, a tax credit for employers that voluntarily provide the extra leave benefits to their workers.  

With respect to higher education, the measure provides $39.6 billion for emergency financial aid grants at institutions of higher education. For student loan borrowers, the bill includes a measure that will exclude certain forgiven loans from being treated as taxable income; it applies to student loans that are forgiven between December 31, 2020, and January 1, 2026.

Outside the scope of ED, the measure will provide $850 million to the Bureau of Indian Education, $200 million to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for library improvements, $135 million each for grants through the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The individual stimulus payments included in the bill are expected to begin being distributed later this month. For those who earn $75,000 or less per year (or $150,000 for couples), the stimulus will provide $1,400 for an individual or $2,800 for a married couple filing jointly. 


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