The Department of Education accidentally awarded $73 million in emergency pandemic funding through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to 24 colleges in August 2021, according to a new bureau report. of the Inspector General of the Ministry.
Federal stimulus funding has helped keep colleges afloat during the pandemic and helped boost state budgets for higher education. The duplicate funds resulted from processing errors by the Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Education, which occurred as a result of processing applications from colleges that accidentally applied twice to the same HEERF program or processed the same request twice. The department says the colleges have done nothing wrong.
In total, duplicate funds represented just 0.1% of the federal government‘s $76 billion in emergency COVID-19 funding for colleges and universities. However, the Department of Education watchdog suggested other policies and procedures to avoid double rewards.
Who received duplicate funds?
The report did not name the specific colleges that received duplicate funds; however, he noted the causes of process errors. Of the 24 colleges that received duplicate funding, 15 had submitted two applications for the same HEERF program, and the remaining nine colleges had one application processed twice by the ministry.
Only eight colleges tapped into the duplicate funds allocated to them. To correct funds allocated in error, the department either reduced the college scholarship by the duplicate amount, authorized the college to use the duplicate scholarship in a different subcategory of the HEERF (such as using it for student aid rather than for institutional aid), or reduce the amount of the school’s American Rescue Plan award by double the award.
Duplicate rewards took an average of four to 16 months to be recognized and corrected, depending on the subcategory of the reward that was duplicated. The OIG said in the report that the Office of Post-Secondary Education did not show evidence of documentation of the duplicate awards and did so only after the OIG brought the duplicate awards to their attention.
Future work to avoid double rewards
In response to the report, the Office of Post-Secondary Education agreed to establish procedures to quickly and accurately process applications and awards for the HEERF and future emergency programs.
The Office of Post-Secondary Education responded to the report’s findings in a letter to the Inspector General. In the letter, Michelle Asha Cooper, Acting Assistant Secretary for Post-Secondary Education, said: “We take seriously our obligation to ensure program integrity even as we seek to help IHE meet the urgent needs in due to the pandemic. We have continuously improved program administration to meet urgent needs with appropriate accountability.
She continued, “It is important to note that of the duplicate assignments identified, the Department was aware of all but one and had either fully resolved or was in the process of resolving the duplicate assignments. It is also important to note that none of the HEERF grant funds were ultimately mis-spent. OPE worked quickly to resolve any identified cases that had not previously been corrected and the funds recovered were needed without any harm to the taxpayer.