Biden’s American Rescue Plan

On January 14, President-elect Joe Biden announced the American Rescue Plan, a supplemental COVID-19 relief package targeted at vaccine distribution and strengthening the U.S. economy, including $170 billion for education. Institutions of higher education would be slated to receive $35 billion in addition to the $82 billion Congress allocated to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund in the December relief package (see CGS summary). The American Rescue Plan would direct emergency relief to public colleges and universities and to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions. The funding would also provide an additional $1,700 per student in emergency grants and $5 billion to a governors’ discretionary fund.

Increased testing and tracing; a national vaccine program; the creation of public health jobs; and accessibility to protective gear are central components in the plan’s COVID-19 response. Extended unemployment benefits; $1,400 stimulus checks per person; and small business relief are also named in the proposed plan. The President-elect urges Congress to move forward with the $1.9 trillion plan, which he will complement in the coming weeks with a separate economic recovery plan. A summary of the rescue plan is available here.

Throughout 2020, CGS advocated for the highest possible sum of emergency relief funding for U.S. institutions. In December, the Council joined a higher education community letter estimating the pandemic has inflicted at least $120 billion in new expenses and lost revenue on colleges and universities. In conjunction with the December relief package, the American Rescue Plan would deliver roughly $117 billion to institutions, the highest level of relief distributed yet to support student and institutional financial needs.

Next Week in Washington: Biden’s Inauguration, Impeachment Process Continues

On January 13, the House voted to impeach President Trump for “incitement of insurrection” related to the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The Senate must produce a two-thirds vote to convict the President of the House’s impeachment charges and remove him from office. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao have resigned from Trump’s cabinet in response to the January 6 events.


On January 12, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) responded to the events of January 6 in a dear colleague letter, calling for the upper chamber to immediately confirm Biden’s cabinet nominees, despite the upcoming impeachment trial. With Republicans in the majority until January 20, at which point Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will tilt control to Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stated he will begin the impeachment trial on January 19. Although the impeachment proceedings are likely to interrupt the incoming Biden administration’s immediate legislative agenda and confirmation hearings of cabinet nominations, Biden will retain the power to introduce policy changes through executive orders.

SEVIS to Establish New OPT Compliance Unit

On January 13, the Student Exchange and Visitors Program announced that it intends to establish a new Optional Practical Training (OPT) Compliance Unit that will be tasked with ensuring that OPT programs “operate in a manner that does not harm U.S. workers or foreign student employees, consistent with regulatory and statutory law.” This new arm will address compliance issues related to hours, wage, and compensation within OPT, STEM-OPT, and Curricular Practical Training. Additionally, the unit will “also be responsible for recommending investigations of employers and students, as needed, to Homeland Security Investigations.” OPT has demonstrated success in recruitment of international graduate students and connecting them with U.S. employers to offer real-world work training related to students’ field of study. CGS’s OPT policy brief demonstrates the impact of the program for international graduate students, U.S. domestic students, academia, and the American economy.

CDC Report on Campus-to-County COVID-19 Spread

On January 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Opening of Large Institutions of Higher Education and County-Level COVID-19 Incidence, discussing COVID-19 spread at U.S. institutions of higher education between July 6 and September 17, 2020. The report details the impact of campus spread on the county in which the institution is located by comparing 21-day periods before and after fall classes commenced. Findings show a 17.9% decrease in COVID-19 cases in counties with large colleges or universities conducting remote instruction. In comparison, university counties with in-person instruction experienced a 56% increase in cases.


The report advises colleges and universities with in-person instruction to implement additional strategies to minimize transmission of COVID-19 on campus, including increased testing for students returning to campus and throughout the semester as well as enforced mask-wearing, handwashing, social distancing, and COVID-19 surveillance. The CDC also encourages institutions to collaborate with local officials to strengthen community efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These practices are even more vital for institutions in close proximity to the broader community as the increases in on-campus cases pose a more significant threat to high-risk populations.

Bipartisan Request for Investigation into Accommodations for College Students with Disabilities during COVID-19

On January 13, Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an examination into how and what accommodations colleges and universities are offering students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter addresses how vital these services are as students navigate various modes of learning during the public health emergency and the challenges institutions face to remain compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Senators request GAO investigate the challenges college students with disabilities face at institutions of higher education, including those specific to the COVID-19 emergency, and how institutions have supported students with disabilities, including instructional modifications.


Colleges and universities face a myriad of challenges as the fallout from the pandemic continues. Providing accessibility and accommodations for students with disabilities is essential to ensuring their academic achievement. As the 117th Congress begins, CGS continues to advocate for the highest sum of emergency relief possible to aid institutions in providing the range of services their communities require.

Deadline Announced for NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

On January 11, the National Science Foundation (NSF) shared details for the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program. S-STEM aims to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds entering the workforce or graduate programs in STEM. The program improves support mechanisms for students with demonstrated financial need and investigates activities that affect the success, retention, transfer, academic/career pathways, and graduation of low-income students in STEM. The full details of the awards are provided in the program solicitation. Institutions of higher education are eligible to apply on behalf of Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Master of Engineering and Doctoral students. The upcoming full proposal deadline is April 7, 2020.