As 2020 comes to a close, there is growing pressure for members of Congress to pass a potential COVID-19 stimulus package similar to the CARES Act passed in March. Unfortunately, the substance of a potential bill remains fluid.
Negotiations are moving quickly, and experts say that if there is any chance for a bill before next year, Congress will need to pass something by the end of next week.
As with any outreach to Congress, we strongly recommend that board members remain in touch with their institutional government relations staff to ensure that advocacy is aligned with overall institutional strategy.
These are the three points that the community and I urge you to reinforce in your engagement with Congress:
- Pass the next COVID-19 relief package.
- Approve at least $120 billion to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of students and institutions. Negotiators in the Senate have been discussing $20 billion to $26 billion for higher education. Increasing this amount is critical to higher education’s sustainability (click here for supplemental talking points).
- Support the SAFE TO WORK Act creating liability protection for colleges and universities. Not only are temporary liability protections beneficial for institutions, they are lynchpins in discussions between Democrats and Republicans (click here for supplemental talking points).
What Board Members Need to Know
In early December, a bipartisan group of senators released a proposal that included $82 billion for education funding for K-12 and higher education. Discussions among this group will likely mean that higher education would receive about between $20 billion and $26 billion. On December 8, White House staffers offered a separate proposal to Congress, although there is little information about how this proposal would treat education funding.
Although $20 billion is more than higher education received in the CARES Act, it falls woefully short of the $120 billion that the community has requested as recently as this month. It also is less than in previous proposals from both the House and the Senate. Questions about the “split” of money between institutional needs and student needs (as seen in the CARES Act) are still outstanding, but currently the community’s concern is the overall lack of funding. Raising that amount is critical.
In addition to resources, liability protection is also critical as institutions work toward in-person classes and bring students back to on-campus dormitories. Institutions need to know they will not face liability for reopening their campuses, especially with current revenue and budget shortfalls.
Questions for Boards
- What unbudgeted costs has your institution incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
- How has COVID-19 affected your institution’s, system’s, or foundation’s financial outlook?
- How best can board members coordinate efforts with presidents and government relations staff to contact members of Congress?
- How will federal and state legislation continue to influence your board’s decisions?
- What related costs are your students, faculty, and staff encountering?
- “Bipartisan group of lawmakers announces $908 billion stimulus plan, aiming to break logjam” – December 1, 2020, the Washington Post
- Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020 Framework Summary – December 9, 2020, POLITICO
- “Trump administration makes new $916 billion offer for COVID-19 aid” – December 8, 2020, Reuters
- Community Letter to Congressional Leaders on COVID-19 Relief for Higher Education– December 2, 2020