Harvard University said on Wednesday that it would not accept the federal funds allocated to it under the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, one day after declining to do so following President Donald Trump’s call for the university to return the funds.
Even though the university did not apply for, request, receive or access the nearly $9 million in funding allocated to it, Harvard said that the attention it was getting around the money was becoming counterproductive to the relief it was designed to provide.
“The intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard in connection with this program may undermine participation in a relief effort that Congress created and the President signed into law for the purpose of helping students and institutions whose financial challenges in the coming months may be most severe,” the university said in a statement.
“As a result of this, and the evolving guidance being issued around use of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, Harvard has decided not to seek or accept the funds allocated to it by statute” the statement added, making it clear that the university would be asking the Department of Education to accept the return of their funds.
When asked what “evolving guidance” led the university to this decision, a Harvard spokesperson pointed to the updated guidance released by the Department of Education and specifically the section that outlined only Title IV eligible students could receive emergency financial aid grants.
The university noted that the reallocation of these resources is under the discretion of the Department of Education but asked that for special consideration to be given to Massachusetts institutions struggling to meet the needs of their students.
This decision by Harvard came as Trump threatened the university, and misleadingly claimed that the institution took coronavirus funding “meant for workers,” when the funds designated to Harvard were from a separate source of federal funding within the CARES Act coronavirus package.
“I’m going to request it,” Trump said during Tuesday’s White House press briefing. “Harvard’s going to pay back the money. They shouldn’t be taking it.”
When Trump initially called on Harvard to not accept their funds, the university held firm, writing in a statement released Tuesday, “Harvard did not apply for, nor has it received any funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. Reports saying otherwise are inaccurate. President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designed for struggling small businesses.”
Harvard’s decision also comes as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called on wealthy institutions to reject their allocation of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
“Congress required by law that taxpayer Emergency Relief funds be given to all colleges and universities, no matter their wealth. But as I’ve said all along, wealthy institutions that do not primarily serve low-income students do not need or deserve additional taxpayer funds. This is common sense. Schools with large endowments should not apply for funds so more can be given to students who need support the most. It’s also important for Congress to change the law to make sure no more taxpayer funds go to elite, wealthy institutions,” DeVos said in a statement released Wednesday.
Harvard joins Princeton and Stanford universities in deciding to not accept the funds provided to them by the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
Cornell University, which is set to receive the largest aid package – tied with Columbia University at $12.8 million – still plans to accept the funding allocated to it.
“Cornell will use 100 percent of these CARES Act funds to support students, going beyond the federal requirement that half of the funds be put towards emergency financial assistance to our students. We know that many of our students will have increased need as a result of the pandemic. Even as our Ithaca campus faces an anticipated COVID-related budget shortfall of over $100 million for the coming fiscal year, we aim to guarantee that every single one, currently enrolled or newly admitted, has the financial resources to complete their Cornell education,” Cornell University Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina said in a statement to CNN.