June 10, 2022

Emergency Grants and Professional Judgment – What Does the Law Say?

Nancy Conneely, Managing Director of Policy
Policy and Advocacy


During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring of 2020, students needed emergency aid and they needed it quickly. Unfortunately, despite financial aid administrators being ready and willing to help and there being an influx of funding from organizations such as AccessLex Institute, process, paperwork and uncertainty about the law sometimes got in the way. 

Increasing aid to students can be time-consuming in normal times, and it requires strict documentation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when a much larger number of students found themselves struggling to meet their basic needs, it resulted in delays, and proved to be overly burdensome for students and financial aid offices. 


So, what does the law say?

Under current law, emergency grants are categorized as “estimated financial assistance,” which is used to determine a student’s financial aid award. A student’s total financial aid and other estimated financial assistance cannot exceed the student’s financial need. A student who has reached the maximum aid award but unexpectedly needs additional funds can request an increase. The financial aid office would then use its professional judgment authority to determine whether additional aid is appropriate. 


But due to the fact that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has historically taken into account a school’s use of professional judgment in the program review process, some schools are hesitant to use this authority. Other times, there isn’t clear communication among a school’s departments in a manner that facilitates timely increases in emergency aid to students.


To learn more about what the law says and the most recent guidance from ED about professional judgment, take a listen to this recording


You can also take a deeper dive into this issue and read recommendations from AccessLex on how to streamline the process of getting emergency grant aid into the hands of students in our recent article for the Journal of Student Financial Aid.