Cardona Confirmed as Secretary of Education, Administration Announces More Appointees

On March 2, Miguel Cardona was sworn in as secretary of the Department of Education. Secretary Cardona’s confirmation came with bipartisan support, passing in the Senate on March 1 by a vote of 64-33. Cardona is known as a champion for students of color and individuals from low-income backgrounds. Throughout his confirmation hearings, he emphasized the importance of federal funding for education and voiced his support for the latest COVID-19 relief package, which would provide $170 billion for education overall.

Democratic lawmakers have already begun requesting Secretary Cardona seek to make regulatory changes within his purview. On March 2, Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) led a group of lawmakers in sending a letter to Secretary Cardona urging him to work with the Department of Justice to repeal the Title IX regulations installed by the Trump administration. The letter requests his immediate action to stay the regulations, effectively blocking them from being enforced. President Biden voiced his intent to overhaul the Trump era regulations in an executive order on his first day in office but did not detail how his administration would make the regulatory changes. Without a formal rulemaking process to override the current rules, a future administration could reverse new code without much bureaucratic entanglement. The Department of Education is currently reviewing the letter and is expected to respond to the lawmakers directly.

On February 25, the Biden administration announced additional appointees to the Department of Education. Notable to CGS and graduate education, the announcement includes key officials in the Office of Postsecondary Education; Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs; Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development; Office of the Secretary; Office of Communications and Outreach; among others. The full list is available here.

Senate Begins Action on Reconciliation Package

On March 4, the Senate began formal deliberation on the reconciliation package, which the House of Representatives passed on February 27. While Senate Democrats are expected to pass the $1.9 trillion package along party lines, Senate Republicans initiated procedural tactics to make the process as long as possible. Proceedings began with Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) instructing Senate clerks to read the 600+ page bill in its entirety, which stretched into the early morning of March 5. Today, the Senate began with general debate and then entered another “vote-a-rama,” a marathon of amendment proposals. The Senate is expected to hold a final vote and pass the package on March 6.


The legislation would provide $170 for education overall, with $40 billion allocated for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The Senate proposal also includes a new provision that would exclude any type of student loan forgiveness from taxable income over the next five years. Enhanced unemployment benefits, state and local aid, and stimulus checks are expected to be high priority provisions up for debate. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is expected to introduce an amendment to raise the minimum wage despite the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling that the provision would go against reconciliation rules in the upper chamber.


The Senate must pass their version of the package and send it back for approval in the House before President Biden receives the final legislation. Federal officials have a self-imposed deadline of March 14 for passage, the day when current funding for unemployment provisions expires. On March 2, CGS joined the higher education community on a letter urging the Senate to quickly pass the relief package to ensure vital funds reach students and institutions in a timely manner.

USCIS Issues Flexibilities for OPT Applicants

On February 26, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) formally announced flexibilities for applicants filing Form I-765 for Optional Practical Training (OPT). The flexibilities pertain to OPT applicants seeking the 12-month STEM extension, rejected applicants who plan to refile their applications, and applications with missing or deficient signatures. The guidance follows a lawsuit filed against USCIS and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier in February. These flexibilities apply only to applications received on or after October 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021, inclusive.

Dream and Promise Act Reintroduced in the House

On March 3, Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Yvette Clarke (D-NY) reintroduced the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6). The legislation would allow certain individuals brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers, the opportunity to earn lawful permanent residence and American citizenship. The Dream and Promise Act would also include protections and a path to citizenship for Temporary Protected Status recipients and Deferred Enforced Departure beneficiaries. The legislation additionally contains a new provision to allow states to provide in-state tuition laws for undocumented and DACA recipients more easily. On February 4, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reintroduced more focused legislation, the Dream Act of 2021 (S.264), in the upper chamber, which CGS has endorsed.


In a press release, Representative Roybal-Allard notes that the Dream and Promise Act’s reintroduction is part of the strategic plan for more extensive immigration reform. On February 18, Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, a comprehensive immigration bill, which among other provisions, includes an increase in the number of H-1B visas for individuals who graduate from U.S. schools with a STEM degree. CGS continues to advocate for a legislative solution for Dreamers and looks forward to working with lawmakers on comprehensive immigration reform.

Temporary SNAP Guidance Applicable to Certain Graduate Students

On February 23, the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture issued guidance for postsecondary institutions regarding the temporarily expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for certain students. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, which then-President Trump signed into law in December 2020, temporarily expands SNAP eligibility to include students who are either eligible to participate in a federal work-study program or have an expected family contribution of zero in the current academic year.


On January 16, students in the categories described above and who meet all other financial and non-financial SNAP eligibility criteria became eligible to receive SNAP benefits. Under regular SNAP eligibility, students enrolled at least half-time at an institution of higher education are ineligible for SNAP benefits unless they meet certain specific exemptions. The temporary exemptions are slated to remain in effect until 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted. More information can be found on the SNAP benefits for students webpage.