Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
May 19 2020

DeVos blocking Dreamers and other Washington students from accessing money in the CARES Act intended to help college students impacted by COVID-19

*Updated 5/20/20 with link to Washington's motion for preliminary injuction

SPOKANE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today challenged a U.S. Department of Education decision that deprives thousands of Washington college students from receiving critical aid included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Under its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, the CARES Act appropriated more than $12 billion to higher education institutions across the nation to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act required that at least 50 percent of the funds be disbursed to students as emergency grants for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations.

On April 21, without congressional authorization, the Department of Education announced that only students who are eligible for federal financial aid may receive CARES Act grants. No such requirement is in the text of the CARES Act itself.

The Department of Education’s restriction excludes many students in need, including students without a high school degree, adult basic education students, students who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status and more.

“Betsy DeVos is unlawfully trying to deny Dreamers and other Washington students the assistance they need — and that Congress intended,” Ferguson said.

“The pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption for all of Washington’s students without regard for the arbitrary, harmful lines the Department of Education has drawn,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Congress intended this aid to be distributed to all students struggling to cope with the COVID-19 emergency, not only those Betsy DeVos deems eligible for assistance. All higher education students in Washington state deserve to be part of our recovery.”

Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in Spokane, asserts that the department’s decision is unlawful and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which gives exclusive “power of the purse” to Congress.

Ferguson asserts that the department’s actions violated the Administrative Procedure Act because they exceeded the department’s statutory authority, lacked any reasoning or explanation and therefore were arbitrary and capricious, and were adopted without proper procedures.

Ferguson also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking a judge to immediately block the Department of Education’s restrictions on the grants. 

Impacts to Washington students

As a result of the department’s decision, thousands of Washington higher education students who desperately need financial assistance have been excluded from the program.

These are among the students whose financial survival and lifeline to higher education is most threatened by COVID-19, because, for example, they worked part-time to pay for tuition, health care and childcare, or they did not have high school diplomas. They include:

  • Adult basic education students at Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges who are acquiring reading, writing, math and language skills to leverage a job, college degree or a trade certification
  • Many of Washington’s roughly 17,000 “Dreamers,” individuals brought to the country at an early age, who have been educated by Washington schools, and are protected under the DACA program
  • Students whose academic progress has fallen below a C average

For example, according to the Washington State Board of Community & Technical Colleges, nearly 52,000 of the state’s 363,000 community and technical college enrollees are adult basic education students, the majority of which are not eligible for CARES Act funding. Adult basic education students account for about 14 percent of community and technical college enrollment.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 85 Washington universities, community and technical colleges and cosmetology schools have received more than $113 million for emergency grants to students.

Assistant Attorneys General Jeff Sprung, July Simpson, Paul Crisalli and Spencer Coates are handling the case for Washington.

Ferguson has now filed 61 lawsuits against the Trump Administration. Ferguson has 28 legal victories against the Trump Administration and one defeat. Eighteen of those cases are finished and cannot be appealed.

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Contacts:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov