The Massachusetts congressional delegation is urging lawmakers to include substantial funding for higher education in the proposed stimulus package aimed at helping stabilize the economy amid the coronavirus crisis.
“COVID-19 has jeopardized the health, learning, and livelihoods of millions of vulnerable students, and threatens to further destabilize the institutions of higher education upon which our nation depends, including colleges and universities in Massachusetts,” reads the letter signed by Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, along with eight of the state’s US representatives. “As a result of COVID-19, colleges and universities in Massachusetts face significant losses in revenue and face new, unexpected costs.”
The letter asks that Congress provide “vigorous financial assistance” to students and higher education institutions. It doesn’t specify how much money should be dedicated to those needs, but outlines several programs that need relief, including emergency grant aid to help students with transportation, relocation and food, and money to help colleges to upgrade their technology systems for online classes and to avoid layoffs.
The Massachusetts congressional letter highlights many of the concerns shared by trade groups representing US colleges and universities. Lobbyists for higher education institutions have requested $50 billion in relief for students and their campuses. Separately, universities have also requested $13 billion in aid for research institutions in order to help them pay graduate and post-graduate students to maintain their labs and research.
Congress continues to work on the final coronavirus stimulus bill. But the initial Republican-backed proposal included far less funding than colleges and universities had requested – including just $6 billion for emergency funds and technology needs and $1.3 billion for research operations.
Colleges have warned that without government help many of them are likely to shutter as their expenses outstrip their revenue. Many are giving students refunds on room and board after emptying out dorms to contain the spread of the virus. Colleges also aren’t sure how many students, particularly those from abroad, will be returning to campuses and enrolling in classes this fall.
As Congress continues to negotiate relief for colleges, institutions with the least resources should receive robust help, said an official with Warren’s office.
“The Massachusetts higher education community needs timely stop-gap funding to continue operations, employment, teaching, and research,” according to the congressional delegation’s letter.