WSU official submits declaration supporting lawsuit against DOE

Lawsuit claims department’s decision to withhold funds from students is unlawful



Phil Weiler, WSU’s Vice President for Marketing and Communications, wrote in an email that WSU is not a direct party in the lawsuit.

BRADLEY GAMBLE, Evergreen reporter

A WSU official filed a declaration in support of the Washington state attorney general’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education. 

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit states the department’s decision to withhold critical aid from thousands of Washington college students is unlawful and violates the Administrative Procedure Act and Article I of the Constitution, according to the news release.

The Administrative Procedure Act guides the process of federal agencies developing and issuing regulations, according to the national archives. Article I gives Congress the exclusive “power of the purse.” This power allows Congress to tax and spend public money for the government.

In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The CARES Act provided funding for institutions of higher education to assist with costs associated with COVID-19 disruptions, according to the CARES Act. At least half of the funds were to be distributed to students directly.

On April 21, the department changed the requirements for aid eligibility, according to the release. 

The department originally announced there would be no restrictions on how institutions could distribute the money to students, according to a declaration by Brian Dixon, assistant vice president for WSU’s Student Financial Services. Students now have to be eligible for federal financial aid to receive any funding from the emergency fund.

The department’s actions exceeded their statutory authority and lacked any reasoning or explanation, according to Ferguson’s release. He believes these actions are arbitrary and were adopted without proper procedures.

Ferguson has filed a motion for preliminary injunction and has asked a judge from the Eastern District Court of Washington to immediately block the department’s restrictions on grants, according to the release. 

Phil Weiler, WSU’s Vice President for Marketing and Communications, wrote in an email that WSU is not a direct party in the lawsuit. However, WSU did submit Dixon’s declaration in support of Ferguson’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The declaration brings attention to groups of students who are affected by the department’s decision.

The first group includes students under the age of 24 who qualify for aid, but cannot get their parents to sign the document for them, according to the declaration. The second group includes students with temporary protected status or DACA status. If these students cannot obtain any emergency aid, they may have to disenroll or lose housing.

The declaration voices WSU’s concerns about students choosing to disenroll due to financial issues caused by COVID-19. A significant number of WSU’s first-generation college attendees cannot be expected to financially prepare for a pandemic. Without the necessary emergency aid, WSU has projected a loss of 20-25 percent for fall enrollment. 

WSU officials are concerned the university will have to pay excessive fines if funds are accidentally distributed to those deemed ineligible for aid by the department, according to the declaration. WSU institutions would not be able to meet educational missions if stuck facing thousands of dollars in fines.