About $40 billion has been included for higher education and student loan relief in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday.
Any federal student debt forgiven after December 31, 2020, and before January 1, 2026, will not be taxed as income, as it was prior to this legislation.
"While the new stimulus package includes tax-free forgiveness of student loans, it does not ultimately solve the problem of student loan debt in the country," Steve Muszynski, student loan expert and founder and CEO of Splash Financial, said in an email statement.
Bipartisanship "is essential for tackling the problem of student loans, and as delinquencies on student loan repayments remain at an all-time high," he said.
This is the largest federal allocation for institutions of higher education since the onset of the pandemic last March. Colleges and universities received about $14 billion last March as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act's Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. As part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, colleges and universities received an additional $23 billion in December.
At least 50% of the funds must go to students directly for emergency financial aid, the bill says, though it is up to each college to distribute the aid. The funds from this legislation may be used for tuition, as well as emergency costs such as health care, housing, food, mental health care and child care, according to The Wall Street Journal.
It is unclear for now whether international students or those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will be eligible for aid from their institutions. However, some of the emergency aid goes outside student loans.
In previous rounds of COVID-19 relief bills, students who are claimed as dependents have not qualified for stimulus payments. This may change for some under new guidelines. Payments totaling $1,400 per household member now include adult dependents, though that money will go to the taxpayer and not the student. This will be the third batch of checks sent out to qualifying Americans since the start of the pandemic.
Other facets of the legislation include unemployment benefits that continue the $300-per-week payments through September 6. Additionally, tens of billions of dollars will be allocated to coronavirus testing and contact tracing, increasing the size of the public health workforce and funding vaccination distribution.
Biden signed the bill Thursday, a day earlier than the White House had planned and a day after the legislation passed through Congress.
Sophia Solano contributed to this report.