CORONAVIRUS: Sens. Booker, Jones and Rep. Adams Urge Secretary DeVos to Allow Minority Serving Institutions To Use Federal Funding For COVID-19 Response 

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CORONAVIRUS: Sens. Booker, Jones and Rep. Adams Urge Secretary DeVos to Allow Minority Serving Institutions To Use Federal Funding For COVID-19 Response 

Minority Serving Institutions In Particular Need Flexible Federal Funding to Serve Students During This Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Doug Jones (D-A.L.) and Representative Alma Adams (D-N.C.) urged Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to give underresourced colleges and universities the flexibility they need to use designated federal funding as a part of their COVID-19 response. 

The COVID-19 crisis has presented unique challenges for Minority Serving Institutions, which are less likely to have the resources they need immediately available to do things like set up distance learning and support students with financial hardship. The Department of Education has the authority to provide immediate relief to these institutions by allowing them to use designated Title III, V, and VII funding for their COVID-19 response without affecting their future eligibility to qualify for such funding.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Alaska Native and Native and Hawaiian-Serving Institutions (ANNHSs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Native American-Serving, Nontribal Institutions (NASNTIs), Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are facing unique challenges in their response to COVID-19 in making sure that their students are being taken care of and have the resources they need to finish the semester. However, because this situation is so novel and many of these institutions lack immediate access to the resources needed to continue supporting their students remotely, they need the added flexibility of being able to amend their workplans, to individualize their response to this pandemic and continue to meet eligibility requirements,” the lawmakers wrote.

 

“If these institutions are provided with the added flexibility of amending their FY2020 workplans they can more quickly and directly meet the needs of the students they serve. Allowing these institutions to use the Title III,V, and VII funds afforded to them, while still remaining within the acceptable uses of the program, to take on projects directly related to their response to COVID-19 will provide much needed relief to these schools in a time where they are stressed to their limits. We also urge you to afford these institutions with the maximum flexibility possible as it relates to existing spending rules and requirements to allow these institutions-should they be forced to close-to take on projects that go beyond fiscal year 2020 with their fiscal year 2020 funding levels,” they continued.

 

In addition to Sens. Booker, Jones and Rep. Adams the letter was also signed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand  (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Chris Coons (D-DE).

Last week, Booker urged Senate Leaders to direct $1.5 billion in emergency funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to support urgent COVID-19 related costs.

Earlier this month, Booker wrote to the White House urging it to unlock emergency funds to help libraries and schools purchase mobile hotspots for students who lack internet access at home. And last fall, he was instrumental in pushing the Senate to reauthorize lapsed funding for MSIs by passing the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act, a bill he had cosponsored.

The full text of the letter is below:

March 24, 2020

 

The Honorable Betsy DeVos 

Secretary of Education 

U.S. Department of Education 

400 Maryland Avenue S.W. 

Washington, D.C. 20202

 

Dear Secretary DeVos, 

 

In light of the recent school closures that have taken place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are requesting that those institutions receiving Title III, V, and VII funding under the Higher Education Act be able to amend their workplans for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Alaska Native and Native and Hawaiian-Serving Institutions (ANNHSs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Native American-Serving, Nontribal Institutions (NASNTIs), Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are facing unique challenges in their response to COVID-19 in making sure that their students are being taken care of and have the resources they need to finish the semester. However, because this situation is so novel and many of these institutions lack immediate access to the resources needed to continue supporting their students remotely, they need the added flexibility of being able to amend their workplans, to individualize their response to this pandemic and continue to meet eligibility requirements.

 

In their applications for funding under Titles III and V, institutions are required to set forth “a comprehensive development plan to strengthen the institution’s academic quality and institutional management, and otherwise provide for institutional self-sufficiency and growth.”[1] Adherence to these plans and the progress towards achieving the objectives set forth in grant applications are factors used to determine future eligibility for grant funding. Likewise, in their applications for funding under Title VII, institutions must “demonstrate how the grant funds will be used to improve graduate educational opportunities for Black and low-income students, and lead to greater financial independence.”[2] Flexibility to alter these proposed plans is needed now more than ever. Even in the best of circumstances, Title III, V, and VII institutions often lack access to financial resources and are penalized for it. In attempting to respond to this pandemic while supporting some of our nation’s most promising yet vulnerable students, these schools will be stressed in ways that other institutions of higher education are able to endure because they are under resourced.

 

For example, many of these campuses do not have distance education embedded in their curriculums and are therefore attempting to find the capacity within their current infrastructure to continue instruction remotely. Additionally, in having students vacate campuses to lessen the chance of exposure to COVID-19, many of these campuses are taking on the added cost of housing those students with financial hardships while attempting to accommodate those students requesting refunds for both room and board. Lastly, those schools that have received federal research dollars are facing the added pressure of meeting the deadlines associated with those funds while attempting to navigate the difficulties that campus closures present.

 

If these institutions are provided with the added flexibility of amending their FY2020 workplans they can more quickly and directly meet the needs of the students they serve. Allowing these institutions to use the Title III, V, and VII funds afforded to them, while still remaining within the acceptable uses of the program, to take on projects directly related to their response to COVID-19 will provide much needed relief to these schools in a time where they are stressed to their limits. We also urge you to afford these institutions with the maximum flexibility possible as it relates to existing spending rules and requirements to allow these institutions-should they be forced to close-to take on projects that go beyond fiscal year 2020 with their fiscal year 2020 funding levels.

 

In addition, these institutions are in need of flexibility in complying with their Title IV program participation agreements. As we enter into a somewhat unknown way of operating fully online, these institutions are drastically changing their operating procedures to adapt quickly and fully. There are likely instances of institutions needing extended deadlines and potential one-time waivers of certain requirements that would allow these institutions to continue to participate in Title IV funding. It is our desire that you preference these institutions in any and all flexibilities given to institutions of higher education in complying with Title IV. 

 

Title III, V, and VII institutions are an invaluable resource to their communities and to the students they serve. They are a beacon of stability and opportunity for students across the country. They need the flexibility to amend their workplans without losing future eligibility to continue to serve their students and their communities at large during these uncertain times.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to working with you to ensure that our Title III, V, and VII institutions have the resources they need to continue to be successful.

 

 

Sincerely,

_______________________                                                        ___________________

Cory A. Booker                                                                                  Doug Jones

United States Senator                                                                    United States Senator

_________________                                                                     ___________________

Alma S. Adams, Ph.D                                                                      Tim Kaine

Member of Congress                                                                      United States Senator

__________________                                                                    ____________________

Benjamin L. Cardin                                                                         Kamala D. Harris

 United States Senator                                                                   United States Senator

____________________                                                              ______________________

  Robert Menendez                                                                           Kirsten Gillibrand

  United States Senator                                                              United States Senator

_____________________                                                             _____________________

Sherrod Brown                                                                                   Chris Van Hollen

United States Senator                                                                     United States Senator

_____________________                                                             _____________________

Tina Smith                                                                                           Christopher A. Coons

United States Senator                                                                    United States Senator

____________________                                                              ______________________

Doris Matsui                                                                                       Grace Napolitano

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

___________________                                                                  _____________________

Darren Soto                                                                                        Jim Cooper

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

___________________                                                                  ______________________

Eleanor Holmes Norton                                                                 Bennie G. Thompson

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

___________________                                                                  _____________________

Henry Cuellar                                                                                     Terri A. Sewell

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

_____________________                                                             _____________________

Jamie Raskin                                                                                       Cedric Richmond

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

_______________________                                                        ______________________

Diana DeGette                                                                                   Jahana Hayes

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

______________________                                                          _____________________

Mike Thompson                                                                                Peter Welch

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

______________________                                                          _____________________

Jerry McNerney                                                                                Ann Kirkpatrick

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

______________________                                                          _____________________

John Lewis                                                                                          John Yarmuth

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

______________________                                                          _____________________

Jimmy Panetta                                                                                   Albio Sires

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

______________                                                                              _____________________

Marcia Fudge                                                                            Nydia M. Velazquez

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress

_____________________                                                             _____________________

Andre Carson                                                                                     Danny K. Davis

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

_____________________                                                             _____________________

Lisa Blunt Rochester                                                                        Judy Chu

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress

_____________________                                                             _____________________

Sylvia R. Garcia                                                                                  Andy Levin

Member of Congress                                                                      Member of Congress


[1] 20 U.S.C. §1068 (b)(1)

[2] 20 U.S.C. 1136(c)(1) and 20 U.S.C. 1136b(c)(1)

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