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Virginia U.S. representatives seek $47 billion in aid for colleges

RICHMOND — Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation want more money for colleges and students dealing with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

A letter written by Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, asks congressional leaders for $47 billion more in emergency funding, saying that steps colleges have taken, including issuing housing and dining refunds and moving classes online, among other things, “have helped save lives” but have “come at a significant financial cost.”

The money would be roughly three times larger than the funding package federal lawmakers approved for colleges across the country in March.

The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday.

In it, McEachin and Reps. Don Beyer, D-8th, Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, and Gerry Connolly, D-11th, say colleges are having “unprecedented cash flow challenges” and those institutions “anticipate drastic decreased summer and fall enrollment as a result of this global pandemic.”

“Absent significant additional financial support from Congress, many institutions will face the prospect of immediate layoffs, devastating budget cuts, program eliminations, and possible closures,” the letter reads. “The challenges these institutions are facing have impacts beyond their campuses: colleges and universities are often the largest employers in communities and drivers of local economies, including through innovative research and development.”

The letter offers some insight into the estimated impact the pandemic will have on Virginia colleges’ budgets.

Virginia Commonwealth University is projecting $50 million in lost revenue, with at least $13 million mostly due to refunds and credits to students, while Virginia Tech is estimating a $31.5 million impact for the spring semester.

The University of Virginia is anticipating $20 million in losses from housing and dining rebates, according to the letter, while the College of William & Mary projects a financial impact between $13 million and $32 million because of refunds for tuition and room and board, and for spending more on technology related to virtual learning.

Virginia State University, a historically black college, is expecting a roughly 25% drop in enrollment, the letter says. Another HBCU, Virginia Union University, is projecting $20 million to $27 million in financial losses related to housing, dining, cuts in research and an expected drop in enrollment.

“Direct federal funding is desperately needed to help these institutions address revenue losses and expenses resulting from the COVID-19 crisis,” McEachin and others said.

Colleges in the state have already taken some steps to help with the financial crisis, including instituting hiring freezes and eliminating discretionary spending. A planned tuition freeze state lawmakers approved last month, where the state gives schools the money they would have gotten had they raised tuition, is unlikely as a new state budget that lawmakers will take up next week focuses on the pandemic’s fallout.

In a statement, VCU’s chief financial officer, Karol Kain Gray, thanked the members of Congress for “pushing for more federal support for higher education during this unprecedented time.”

“We cannot allow our students and health care workers to bear the brunt of the economic impact of this pandemic,” she said. “Additional federal support is critical so that we can continue with our public mission of educating Virginia’s students, caring for Virginia’s patients and, as Richmond’s largest employer, serving the Richmond region as an economic engine.”

Virginia colleges are already set to receive $313 million as part of the federal funding package Congress approved last month.

The money is being sent to schools through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a $14 billion pot that Congress established as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Half of the roughly $12.6 billion given in direct grants to colleges nationwide must go straight to students through emergency financial aid, according to the legislation.

The $156.5 million that is set to head to Virginia students will help cover costs associated with the widespread closure of the state’s colleges, including food, health care and technology, among other things, with classes moving online.

“This critical funding will help colleges and universities provide Virginia students with the support they need during this unprecedented time,” Virginia’s U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner, both Democrats, said in a joint statement.

“We are pleased to see these resources go towards helping provide emergency financial aid for Virginia students, and we will keep fighting for the additional resources our educational institutions need in a future package.”

George Mason University students are set to receive the most money in the state, with $10.4 million going to the financial aid grants. Students at VCU will split $10.1 million.


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