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One Person’s Opinion - By Dr. Jerry Lewis

I have reviewed the questions and comments about the Department of Education's conference call. I agree with those who concluded this call/information was not intended, and nor did it by inference, provide any information or guidance for the management of Federal TRiO programs. There was nothing relating to the management of TRiO or programs like TRiO in this call.

I have also looked over the Q&A responses posted on the Department of Education general site, as of Wednesday, there was limited information there specific to addressing the TRiO community's questions. Hopefully, this will change soon, however until then, we should be guided by COE and program Regulations and Uniform Guidance.

I am confident, some guidance will be forthcoming from the Department of Education when Program Officers are "authorized" to provide information/guidance. Government employees are working in a highly scrutinized environment, particularly, in the present time.

However, for now, we must think out of the box, be creative, be prudent, think compliance, and employ sound management principles, and decision-making to implement strategies to preserve our programs' focus, mission, and purpose. TRiO programs are designed to provide information and assistance, preparation and guidance, post-secondary enrollment, retention, graduation, and graduate school enrollment. We are best positioned to define what that means in our current environments. States and institutional policies will affect this differently for us. Program operations may not be exactly as described in the approved grant. We might have to make programmatic adjustments not contemplated, or budgetary decisions not envisioned before these changing and uncertain times. We have regulations on our side.

We have the authority to adapt our program's plan and service delivery strategies as dictated by current realities to provide the most critical, necessary and, as much as possible, required services under the circumstances of this pandemic. Be confident that this can be done without a change in scope… It is not unusual to experience uncertainty, anxiety, and fear in whether the "right" decisions are being made, but what is right or what is normalcy in abnormal times. I suggest we revisit the Regulations and Uniform Administrative Requirements… and manage our programs within the latitude and authority granted to projects/grantees. With the exception to where it is specifically stated, "Not Allowable "or "Prior Approval required, (200.308) (a) –(c) i-viii, much is possible and much can be done.

Grantees have the authority to transfer funds between lines throughout the budgets, but for, "funds budgeted for participant support costs…" (200.308{v}).

Also, note 200.75, participants support…, means "subsistence allowance". i.e., food, lodging, etc. Under the current situation, how can room and board in TRiO programs be used in compliance with these provisions? Guidance from the Department would be very helpful or would this fall under the Basic Consideration Test (200-402)? The right questions may inform the responses we get.

Note 200.308 C (2) "No other prior approval requirements for specific items may be imposed…" Grantees have carryover authority …, the department of education has set a limit of approximately $30,000.00; this is an administrative, not regulatory decision. Should we ask that this limit be relaxed? Also, apply the basic consideration test when you have to make a real-time and necessary budget decision in the absence of specific guidance from the Department of Education or when it is not specifically allocated to a line in the grant's budget. Use the Basic Consideration test: (200 -403) Allowability; (200-404) Reasonable; ... A cost is reasonable if, in its nature and amount, it does not exceed that which would be incurred by a prudent person under the circumstances prevailing at the time the decision was made to incur the cost…; (200.405) Allocable; … allowable and prudent person authority. In the absence of specific guidance, students/participants must be served as best we can under the circumstances, in compliance, and with proper documentation and justification in every instance.

In this instance, I point us to provisions of the Uniform Administrative Requirements, but equally so, to the program-specific Regulations. The law and regulations provide some support for thinking outside of the box, if we act as a prudent person should, to keep the programs', focus, mission, and purpose of providing high-quality services to our participants at the forefront of all we do. I encourage us to not allow these uncertain times to limit our ability and or efforts to maximize the latitude, authority, and our intellectual will to use the programs' budgetary resources, and programmatic elasticity to respond to the needs of our students in this critical and historic time.

Finally, I would underscore the need to document even if that documentation may not be as strong as it would be with face to face interactions. Surely, changes will have to be made by the Department of Education on many of our concerns/questions, however, until those administrative changes are made, we have regulations on our side. I encourage us to always think about compliance but never lose sight of why TRiO programs exist and the students we are committed to serving.

Blessings, be safe and stay healthy, our students need us and what TRiO programs offer, maybe even more now than ever before. We are in this together and together we will come through this. TOGETHER!

Dr. Jerry Lewis,

Executive Director, Academic Achievement Programs,

Talent Search, Student Support Services, McNair and EOC

University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 301-405-4736

Attorney at Law

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