Udall, Heinrich Urge Senate Leadership to Include Higher Education Relief in Upcoming Coronavirus Legislation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M) joined a group of 31 senators in urging Senate leadership to include $47 billion in financial support for students and institutions of higher learning in the upcoming coronavirus relief package. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the senators called for additional funding to ensure that students are able to complete their degrees despite the impact of COVID-19. The senators also emphasized the substantial costs and losses already faced by institutions of higher education as enrollment declines and state cuts jeopardize the financial stability of schools.

New Mexico’s colleges and universities were previously awarded grants under the CARES Act. Specifically, the legislation made available $62 million in funding to the state through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEER). The University of New Mexico received $8.6 million to distribute to students as needed—amounting to approximately 13,000 students. Additionally, New Mexico State University received $14 million, half of which was earmarked for student financial relief. However, universities and higher education institutions still face significant revenue shortfalls as a result of the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The senators wrote, “Higher education provides a ladder of economic opportunity to our nation’s students while also building a globally competitive workforce. Colleges and universities are also pillars of communities. Across the entire higher education sector, institutions last year directly employed 3.6 million individuals. Additionally, research universities are at the forefront in searching for scientific solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges, including COVID-19. These immense contributions to society are at grave risk without additional support.”

“Students are facing complex financial emergencies that threaten their ability to remain on their path to degree completion,” the senators continued. “The needs are particularly pronounced for students of color, low-income students, veterans, and first generation college students. Colleges and universities have taken immediate steps to protect individual health by shifting to remote learning platforms so students can maintain academic progress during the disruption, but face massive increases in expenses combined with a precipitous decline in revenue.”

To meet the needs of these schools and their students during this tumultuous time, the senators requested that schools are given the flexibility they need to use the funding most effectively within their communities.

Joining Udall and Heinrich in this letter are U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The full text of the letter is available here and can be found below:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

Thank you for your swift and robust action to alleviate the health and economic impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). As you prepare for a fourth economic relief package, we respectfully urge you to provide $47 billion in financial support for students and institutions of higher learning.

Higher education provides a ladder of economic opportunity to our nation’s students while also building a globally competitive workforce. Colleges and universities are also pillars of communities. Across the entire higher education sector, institutions last year directly employed 3.6 million individuals. Additionally, research universities are at the forefront in searching for scientific solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges, including COVID-19. These immense contributions to society are at grave risk without additional support.

Congress responded in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to the emergency financial needs of students, colleges, and universities by providing $14 billion in support through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. However, students and institutions are experiencing vastly greater need. Students are facing complex financial emergencies that threaten their ability to remain on their path to degree completion. The needs are particularly pronounced for students of color, low-income students, veterans, and first generation college students. Colleges and universities have taken immediate steps to protect individual health by shifting to remote learning platforms so students can maintain academic progress during the disruption, but face massive increases in expenses combined with a precipitous decline in revenue.

In addition to the substantial costs and losses already faced by institutions, the threat of ongoing financial uncertainty stemming from enrollment declines and state cuts threaten the financial stability of schools. The situation requires significant additional emergency relief from Congress. Congress should also provide more flexibility in the use of funds to ensure that federal investment can be effectively targeted by colleges and universities to meet the needs of students and communities.

We thank you for your support of these critical investments in our nation’s students and institutions of higher learning.

Sincerely,