Penn State to allocate COVID-19 federal emergency aid grants to 25,000 students

Students who meet certain criteria to receive federal student aid eligible for $1,000 grants in first of two rounds of funding

One of two carved pillars located at the west gate of Penn State's University Park campus. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

Editor's note: As of December 2020, all CARES Act grant funds have been awarded and this program has ended. In total, Penn State awarded nearly $27.5 million to 27,883 students. Penn State’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund reporting information is available here.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 25,000 Penn State students will receive cash grants of up to $1,000 each in an initial round of funding from the University’s share of the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund — money that will help students cover expenses related to disruptions in campus operations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on a framework developed by a task group that included broad representation from across the University, Penn State will disburse the $1,000 grants to approximately 23,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate, law and medical students from all Penn State campus locations, with the exception of World Campus. In accordance with federal requirements, students enrolled exclusively in online programs are not eligible for the emergency aid.

“Colleges and universities have been given discretion by the U.S. Department of Education to determine how this emergency assistance will be disbursed to students,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “Knowing that a significant number of our students have experienced financial hardship, we want to make as deep of an impact as possible with this funding to reach as many students as we can who have incurred expenses as a result of the necessary shift to remote instruction.”

Students receiving a relief grant qualified for the aid based on family income and other data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), with grant recipients comprised of the University’s Pell Grant-eligible and lower-income students. In a letter to college and university presidents, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos encouraged institutions to prioritize funding for those students with the greatest need, while also distributing grants as widely as possible for maximum impact.

The grants are part of Penn State’s approximately $55 million allocation from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that was signed into law on March 27. Half of that funding, or nearly $27.5 million, will be distributed as emergency cash grants to students in need to pay for expenses like course materials, technology, food, housing, health care and child care resulting from COVID-19 disruptions.

“We understand how critical these grants are to our students, and especially so for those students of limited means whose lives and educations have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. “We are committed to making these funds available to our students as quickly as possible, as we know from the large number of applicants to the University’s Student Emergency Fund — which has awarded more than $280,000 to students since the pandemic began — just how urgently this relief is needed.”

In the coming weeks, eligible students will receive notification of their award via their Penn State email account, and they will need to follow the instructions provided to accept or decline the funding. Students accepting the aid will be required to affirm that the funds will be used to cover eligible expenses incurred as a result of disruptions to their education caused by COVID-19, and students will have the ability to request a lower grant amount if their associated expenses total less than $1,000. Students also will be provided with information in LionPATH on how to enroll in eRefund to receive the funds via direct deposit, or to update their bank account information for eRefund. Otherwise, a paper check will be sent to the student’s permanent address, and students will be provided with information on updating this address in LionPATH.

While this first round of funding is focused on students who reported lower family incomes on their FAFSAs, Penn State recognizes that not all students have completed the FAFSA, and that the economic impacts of COVID-19 may have drastically altered the finances of many students and their families. For students not receiving emergency aid during the initial round of funding, Penn State has set aside approximately $2 million of the federal relief money to allow students who were not identified for aid in Round 1 to apply for support. To help as many individuals as possible, students who received a grant during the first round of funding will not be eligible to apply for Round 2 aid.

Details on how students can apply for this second round of funding, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis for students who incurred eligible expenses, will be announced soon.

As directed by the Department of Education, only students who are eligible to receive Title IV federal student aid can receive grants from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Penn State is only able to confirm Title IV eligibility when a student files a FAFSA. Therefore, to remain compliant with federal guidelines, Penn State suggests all students who wish to be able to apply for consideration for Round 2 funding and who have not yet submitted their 2019-20 FAFSA do so as soon as possible in order to confirm eligibility for federal aid.

Students, including graduate and professional students, who would like to fill out a 2019-20 FAFSA can do so at before the June 30 federal deadline. Completing the FAFSA does not guarantee that a student will receive an emergency grant, but it will be a necessary step in the application process to be considered for the aid.

Some students are not eligible to receive Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grants under Department of Education guidelines and federal law, either because they were enrolled exclusively in online programs during the spring semester or they do not meet the criteria to receive federal student aid, such as international students. Recognizing that these students also may have experienced financial hardships as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the University is encouraging any student with concerns related to COVID-19 to explore the resources provided by the Office of Student Care and Advocacy for assistance.

In addition, Complete Penn State provides resources such as financial aid for students who are within one or two semesters of completing their first associate or bachelor's degree and experience a situation that negatively impacts their ability to complete their degree. Since the University began remote course delivery in mid-March, Complete Penn State has approved more than $250,000 in financial support for students. Eligible students in need of aid are invited to apply at Complete Penn State is available to students at all Penn State campuses, including World Campus, and to domestic and international students.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund allocations are based on the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) Pell Grant recipients and the total FTE enrollment at each educational institution, not including students enrolled entirely online. Penn State has more than 19,000 Pell students and a FTE on-campus enrollment of more than 76,000 students University-wide — both of which are among the highest in the country.

For answers to frequently asked questions about the emergency grants, visit

Last Updated April 20, 2021