CARES Act Frequently Asked Questions

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a bill passed by Congress in March 2020, that provides much-needed emergency aid during the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill provides special accommodations for students. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has announced the first distribution of funds through the CARES Act. Students should refer to their school’s financial aid office’s web page for information on how they may be impacted by these funds. If there is no information available on the financial aid office’s web page, students should contact the financial aid office directly. 

Additional financial aid is available to students who are experiencing a financial need due to COVID-19. 

Institutions have complete discretion to award funds available through the CARES Act to students in need of support due to COVID-19. Funds can be used for any allowable item in the cost of attendance, including food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care.

For more information on the awarding of these funds, we have complied our FAQs around COVID-19 and the CARES Act here. You can also review the COVID-19 policy blog created by the National College Attainment Network.

We’ve answered some frequently asked FAFSA / TASFA questions here. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Institutions of Higher Education are allowed to use CARES Act funds to provide emergency financial aid grants to assist students with unexpected expenses due to the COVID-19 emergency. They are encouraged by the Secretary of Education to, in most cases, consider a maximum award per student equal to the maximum Pell Grant of $6,195. Emergency grants to students related to COVID-19 issues, including those related to cost of attendance, food, housing course materials, technology, health, and child care.

The Department of Education will  automatically suspend payments (and involuntary payments) and interest on Direct Loan and Federal Family Education loans held by ED until September 30, 2020.



Months for which the Department of Education suspends payments will count for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, other loan forgiveness programs, and for those borrowers who are rehabilitating their loans.



Note: Private loans will not be automatically suspended, but call your loan provider and see if there are any relief options available.

If you are unable to complete the semester with a qualifying emergency, then this semester will not be counted toward your calculations of Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU), and Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP).



You will need to apply for a leave of absence with your Financial Aid office, and the institution will report it to Federal Student Aid. You are not required to return any financial aid already received to the institution. Your financial institution will forgive the student loan for the affected semester with an approved leave of absence; it is NOT automatic.

For currently enrolled college students, colleges can allow Federal Work-Study recipients to receive your wages through the end of this academic year, even if you are unable to continue working.



You will need to take action to receive these wages by contacting your college’s financial aid offices.

If you are a current college student, there is no action for you to take to qualify for the loan deferment program that’s now going into effect through September 30th of this year. This is going into effect automatically by all loan agencies.


For most collegians, this isn’t a really critical process because payments aren’t going to be due, in most cases, until after you graduate from college, but for those who have recently graduated these benefits and this deferment on payments and interest accrual around your loans is going to be deferred until September 30th automatically. 


If you like to double, triple check, it never hurts to log into your student loan website to confirm. Typically they have a note at the very top of their website that will confirm this. 


Note: If your loans are private they may not be automatically deferred. 

Unfortunately, if you are over the age of 16 and eligible to be claimed on your parents’ taxes as a dependent, you will not receive a check, and your parents will not receive a version of that check on your behalf.


There will be other qualifications for families who do have multiple dependents in their household claimed on their taxes. But as an individual student, if you are being claimed on your parents’ taxes for this past year you will not be receiving this check coming in from the federal government directly to citizens.


  1. That being said, there are many other benefits going into effect next week through your college and institution. So that does not mean you’re not going to get support and assistance. It just is not going to be through that individual check initiative that’s going into effect right now.

Currently, we don’t have a clear answer on this from the federal government. So if you are taking out loans starting today to get ready for college into next year, that deferment process should through September 30th. It’s our understanding that that will also apply to new student loans that are granted the summer and leading up to the fall semester. We are still awaiting a 100% confirmation on that.


Our interpretation of this law and some of our experts who have been really reviewing this policy have shared this same idea that any new loans will be applied with a 0% interest rate. However, our understanding is that’s going to expire like everything else, that 0% interest on September 30th and beyond. 


So again, this is just a grace period that’s going into effect beginning in March and then extending through September 30th and again, our understanding is that that applies to both current loans and new loans that will be awarded this summer and fall semester.

College Forward highly recommends that you contact the Texas Labor Department or Workforce Solutions, which is the State agency that helps answer all questions related to unemployment benefits.


If you received a job offer and because of this potential recession that we’re entering that job offer was rescinded by no fault of your own, there’s a lot of nuance as to whether or not that qualifies for unemployment. It’s a very specific case-by-case example. It depends on your past employment if you had any at all this past year, and what your forecast looks like moving forward.


For this specific question, there’s not a blanket answer. Our best recommendation right now is to, again, contact Workforce Solutions, the Texas Workforce Commission, or the local Texas Labor Department to help answer that question for you and get some consultation personally from a support staff member

The short answer to this question is yes, if your parents have been laid off and that changes your financial situation, which it undoubtedly will, you can actually go through a process at your college known as a professional judgment review. This is a process that your College Forward coach or coordinator can help you with. 


There is a process at every college and university, where you can make a case to your financial aid department about significant changes related to your economic situation. COVID-19 financial challenges would absolutely fall into that category. A couple of really important pointers though, as you’re going through this process. 


1. We recommend calling your financial aid department and getting on the phone with your officer to make sure you understand the process at your specific college. See if they have a specific form financial appeals form for you to fill out. If they don’t, your next step is to create and write your own letter describing your family situation. The letter should include how potential loss of jobs is going to affect your ability to stay enrolled in college, now or in the future. 


2. This is a very evidence-based and proof-based process, so it’s not going to be based on your personal story or what’s going on in your family on an individual or personal level. This is really about evidence that this is going to affect you and your family negatively. Any sort of proof that you can provide in the form of payments or notifications from employers, all of that would be attached to a letter that, again, we can assist you with this appeal process, but we need to be included in that appeal in order for you to maximize your chances.


3. We highly recommend that you do go through this process. There is literally no downside. The worst thing that they can say is “no” or “we don’t have additional resources.” They are not going to take away or punish you for going through an appeal process because of the change in your family situation. So, please do take a look at this as a resource.


4. Most importantly, if you need help with this or if you want to run anything by us, you know where to find your coach at College Forward.


We’re still waiting for specific guidance from the federal government and the Department of Education around this topic. It is our understanding that because this process went into effect effective March 13th, that those benefits will be applied retroactively. Exactly how they might initiate a refund of those payments, we do not know yet. We do not have that guidance from either institution or the Department of Education. 

This is an ever-changing process. There wasn’t a lot of direction coming through Washington D.C. about how this needs to be implemented. So a lot of what we’re learning is that individual colleges and universities are establishing their own process around this.

So we learn more information about all these questions and this question, we will be posting more updates online. If you have other questions related to any of this contact your coach.

We will continue to monitor our questions from students and our community regarding the CARES Act and will update our FAQs accordingly. If you have other questions about navigating about how COVID-19 will affect your post-secondary journey, check our of succeeding in school during COVID-19 resource.

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