Legislators Set to Approve Newsom’s Plan to End Covid-era Education Grant

Workers who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and are enrolling in a college class, be warned: Your chance to get as much as $2,500 will likely be gone by June 15.

The Golden State Education and Training Grant Program was created in 2021 to help workers laid off because of the economic consequences of COVID. But now the college grant program is itself slated to be cut due to California’s current fiscal malaise.

Seeking ways to plug the state’s estimated $31.5 billion budget hole, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed in May to completely scupper the relief grant program in the 2023-24 budget year, which starts July 1. That would return an estimated $480 million to the state — nearly all of the $500 million lawmakers and Newsom allotted for the program.

And while the Legislature hasn’t officially formulated its budget response to Newsom, which is due by June 15, the budget committee in the Assembly and a key subcommittee in the Senate have approved Newsom’s plan to sunset the program. About 6,000 people have used the program so far; the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan advisor to the Legislature, suggested getting rid of it at the end of the year.

Officials with the agency overseeing the relief grant said individuals who currently qualify for the aid can still apply, but the timeline is tight.

Eligible workers must submit the application for the grant by June 15, said Shelveen Ratnam, a spokesperson for the California Student Aid Commission, said in an email Tuesday afternoon. If workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t currently in a college program, they must be enrolled by June 30 to take advantage of the grant, Ratnam added.

The aggressive timeline applies to colleges as well — they, too, must verify a student’s enrollment by June 30.

After June 30, the commission “will disburse awards to the grantees that have met all the eligible criteria,” Ratnam wrote.

Unlike typical financial aid applications, applying for the relief grant takes less than 20 minutes. But workers seeking the money must satisfy several requirements, including that they:

  • lost their jobs “due to” the pandemic;
  • weren’t enrolled in a higher-education program when they were laid off;
  • currently earn less than $42,800 a year as single wage-earners without kids or more if their families are larger;
  • make less than what they did before the pandemic;
  • are enrolled at a community college, California State University or University of California academic program, plus a few other eligible training institutions.

The grant program was rolled out to great fanfare with plans of reaching 190,000 people, but so far few individuals have received aid. As of early May, the student aid commission awarded roughly 3,500 students with grants in 2022-23 and 2,600 through a pilot in 2021-22. That amounted to $24 million in grants.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote in February that the relief grant was basically a solution in search of a problem. While many of the employees laid off during the pandemic worked in service and recreation-related jobs and lacked a college degree, this program came too late.

Now, “because the labor market has been very favorable for people looking for jobs, displaced workers are more likely to have the option to find other jobs rather than returning to school.”

Plus, students in California are able to enroll in community college for free if their incomes are low enough — the target group of this grant — the analyst’s office wrote. State and federal financial aid can also lead to more education dollars for workers going back to school, the analyst’s report added. Still, those grants are only available for four or six years — and some workers may have used up their financial aid benefits. The relief grant also applied to really short academic programs, which isn’t the case with the more established federal and state aid.

Nonetheless, the analyst’s office pushed to “discontinue the Golden State Education and Training Grant program at the end of the current year and remove any remaining funding at that time.”

Other than the training grant, Newsom and lawmakers are signaling that California’s budget for public higher education will grow. The UC and Cal State systems are each expecting more than $200 million in state support for their core academic missions — increases of 5% from the previous year. Newsom and lawmakers also want to commit another $227 million for a new financial aid program mostly aimed at students from middle-class families, among other commitments, such as affordable student housing.

What’s being proposed is a “solid budget,” said Kevin McCarty, a Democratic Assemblymember from Sacramento, at a budget hearing last week. It’s “not perfect, but an A- to continue on our priorities.”


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