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Harvard Returns $8.6M in Relief Funds After Backlash

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  • After receiving backlash, Harvard said it will return $8.6 million that it was given in federal aid through an education relief fund created by the stimulus package.
  • President Trump accused Harvard of taking emergency funding earmarked for small businesses and said he would request they give the money back.
  • In a statement, Harvard clarified that it had not taken money set aside for small businesses. Instead, it received money set aside for colleges and universities.
  • The money Harvard received was similar to the amounts of other schools with large endowments, like Stanford and Princeton, which have said they will not accept the funding.

Harvard Reverses Funding Decision

Harvard has said it will not accept the $8.6 million it received in emergency federal funding, a reversal prompted by widespread criticism that the richest school in America should not get government money.

Harvard had initially said it would keep the money after President Donald Trump said the school should give it back, though he appeared to confuse the source of funding.

During a press conference Tuesday, Trump accused Harvard of taking stimulus money set aside for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“Harvard is going to pay back the money. And they shouldn’t be taking it. So, Harvard is going to,” Trump said during a press conference Tuesday.

“You have a number of them. I’m not going to mention any other names. But when I saw Harvard, they have one of the largest endowments anywhere in the country, maybe in the world, I guess. And they’re going to pay back that money.” 

Shortly after Trump’s remarks, Harvard responded in a statement on Twitter. 

“Harvard did not apply for, nor has it received any funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses. Reports saying otherwise are inaccurate,” the school wrote. 

“President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses,” the statement continued. 

Like most colleges and universities, Harvard has been allocated funds as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.”

Harvard also said that that it will direct all of the funds to the students, on top of additional financial assistance it has already given to students for things like travel, living expenses, and the transition to online classes.

But the next day, the university appeared to change it’s mind.

Harvard will not accept funds from the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund,” Harvard wrote in a series of tweets.

“We are concerned that intense focus by politicians & others on Harvard in connection with the program may undermine participation in a relief effort,” it continued, adding that as a result, “Harvard has decided not to seek or accept the funds allocated to it by statute.”

Harvard’s change of heart came hours after Princeton announced that it would not be accepting the funding and Stanford said on Twitter that it had withdrawn its application for the money on Monday.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund

Like the PPP, the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund was approved by both Congress and Trump as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package. The fund specifically designates $14 billion to help higher education.

The Education Department has said that thousands of colleges and universities will get money through the fund. The recipients include both public and private institutions, and range from Ivy Leagues to beauty schools.

Per the directions of the department, about half of the money the schools get is supposed to go the students, while the other half goes to making up lost revenue and other costs related to the pandemic.

While Harvard is the richest university in the U.S. with an endowment of around $40 billion, the money they received from the fund was in line with other comparable schools— including those that also have sizeable endowments.

Yale, which has a $30 billion endowment, was also given $6.8 million. Standford also has an endowment of just under $30 billion, and it had received $7.3 million before deciding to pull its application.

Other Ivy Leagues including Columbia and Cornell got even more from the fund— about $12.8 million each. While both schools have slightly smaller endowments, they are still quite large when compared to other universities. 

Funding Allocation

Notably, the money is not given out based on how much money a school does or does not have. Instead, the funds are allocated based on a formula that takes into account the overall student enrollment and income level of the student body.

That is measured by how many students at each school are receiving federal financial aid through federal Pell Grants. 

According to Harvard, 16% of their 6,600 undergraduates are Pell Grant recipients, and in the 2018-19 academic year, the school gave $200 million in scholarships to undergraduates alone.

That mechanism for measurement is also why many schools with less money got much bigger amounts of funding. The biggest sum went to Arizona State University, which received $63.5 million because it has 83,000 students and about half of them are considered low income.

But still, Harvard got a lot of backlash from plenty of people, not just President Trump. Republican Senators Rick Scott (R-FL), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) all took to Twitter to voice their disapproval of the move.

That sentiment was even echoed by Department of Education.

“Sending millions to schools with significant endowments is a poor use of taxpayer money,” a department spokesperson said Tuesday, adding that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had sent a letter to college and university presidents asking them to send the money back if they do not need it.

Other Problems With Funding

However, DeVos herself has recently received significant backlash for her handling of funding from the stimulus bill.

DeVos is in charge of distributing an additional $6 billion that is separate from the relief fund and earmarked specifically to help college students pay for food, childcare, and housing. 

On April 9, DeVos said that the $6 billion would be “immediately distributed” to the students. But according to a Politico report published Monday, only $6 million of that has been given out— less than a fraction of a percent.

That has already prompted widespread criticism from leaders in higher education, many of whom have said that they have struggled with bureaucracy and lack of guidance.

That is also not where their problems stop. Others have said there were glitches with the process of applying for the aid early on. According to reports, the website where schools submit documents would go down for hours at a time, and some schools that had not used the portal before had trouble registering.

But in a statement last week, a department spokesperson blamed the schools themselves.

“It’s tragic that at a time when students are struggling to make ends meet, too many highly capable and intelligent leaders of higher-ed institutions are dragging their feet and claiming it’s because there’s some lack of clarity in the law,” the spokesperson said.

Separately, DeVos issued a new guidance on Tuesday that prohibits undocumented students from receiving any of the $6 billion.

While the stimulus package does not have any language regarding undocumented student’s DeVos’ guidance mandates that the aid can only be given to students who qualify for federal financial aid.

Under current law, only U.S. citizens and some legal permanent residents are eligible for federal aid.

As a result, the policy explicitly excludes hundreds of thousands of students who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Newsweek) (Politico)

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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act to Make False, Racist 911 Calls Illegal

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  • San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced an ordinance this week called the CAREN Act, which would make false, racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal.
  • The acronym stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. It is named after “Karens,” a nickname for white women who throw unwarranted fits in public.
  • These fits often appear racially motivated and have led to “Karens” calling the police on people of color.
  • California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has also introduced a similar piece of legislation that would outlaw these calls throughout the state.

Why the “CAREN” Act?

A lawmaker in San Francisco has introduced an ordinance that would outlaw making false, racially discriminatory 911 calls, dubbed the CAREN Act.

City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ordinance. In a tweet announcing the act on Tuesday, he called racist 911 calls “unacceptable.”

The CAREN Act stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, but its name bears much more weight. A “Karen” is an Internet nickname for white women whose privilege and entitlement leads to loud complaints, threats of legal action, calling supervisors, and often, calling the police. The unjustified outrage of Karens has been documented in countless viral incidents, and in many cases, they show a clear prejudice against people of color. 

One video that went viral in May has been pointed to as a prime example of this. In that clip, Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York, called the police on a Black man named Christian Cooper. Both were in Central park at the time when the man asked her to put her dog on a leash, as she was required to do in that area.

However, that confrontation escalated when she desperately told a 911 operator that she was being threatened when she was not. Many felt her instinct to weaponize her white privilege and make a false claim could have had serious consequences considering the fact that Black Americans are more likely to face police brutality and die in police custody. She has since been charged with filing a false report after much public outrage.

While videos of this nature have often gone viral, this incident came at a cultural tipping point. Not long after it made its way across the Internet, another story received national attention: a video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis. This sparked a movement of people confronting systemic racism and police brutality, and since then, more “Karen” videos have spread online in an effort to hold people accountable for their racist behavior.

What the Ordinance Does

While filing a false police report is already illegal, Walton is pushing for more to be done to stop people from calling the authorities on people of color for no real reason. The CAREN Act would make it illegal to fabricate a report based on racial and other kinds of discrimination. 

“Within the last month and a half in the Bay Area, an individual called the police on a Black man who was dancing and exercising on the street in his Alameda neighborhood and a couple called the police on a Filipino man stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk in front of his own residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights,” he said in a statement. 

This is not the only proposal of its kind. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has introduced a similar ordinance. His proposed legislation, AB 1150, would make state that “discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.”

“AB 1550, when amended, will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement. “This bill is incredibly important to upholding our values and ensuring the safety of all Californians.”

See what others are saying: (SFist) (The Hill) (CNN)

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Catholic Church Granted at Least $1.4 Billion in PPP Loans

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  • An analysis from the Associated Press found that the Catholic Church received at least between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
  • The report identified 3,500 loans the Church received from the Paycheck Protection Program, but leaders have previously stated that as many as 9,000 bodies of the Church received funding.
  • However, government data only shared who received loans over $150,000. Smaller churches that received under that amount were not on the list, meaning the Catholic Church could have collected even more than records show.
  • Usually, religious groups would not be eligible for funding from the Small Business Administration, but the Church allegedly spent a good chunk of money lobbying so that there would be an exception for the PPP.

Catholic Church Receives Billions in PPP Funds

The Catholic Church received between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid, according to a Friday analysis from the Associated Press.

While houses of worship and religious organizations are usually ineligible for federal aid from the Small Business Administration, an exception was made for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to keep American businesses afloat as the pandemic shut the country down.

The AP found records of 3,500 forgivable loans for Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other ministries. That number, however, is likely higher.

The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has claimed that 9,000 Catholic bodies received loans. Government data only shared loans over $150,000, so smaller churches who got less were not on the list, meaning the Church may have pocketed even more than $3.5 billion. 

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

According to the AP, the Archdiocese of New York received $28 million just for executive offices. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City received $1 million. Diocesan officials in Orange County, California received four loans worth $3 million. The AP’s analysis suggests that the Catholic Church and its entities were able to retain 407,900 jobs with this loan money.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told the AP.

How Did the Church Get Aid?

Like many businesses throughout the country, churches had to shut their doors as large gatherings became unsafe as the coronavirus’ spread continued. Masses were canceled or moved online and celebrations for the Easter holidays were dropped, causing the Church to to fall behind financially. 

While its global net worth is not known, the Catholic Church is considered the wealthiest religious organization in the world. It is also one of the most powerful groups of any kind, with an estimated 1.2 billion followers all over the planet. According to the AP, its deep pockets and far-reaching influence helped it receive federal aid. 

The Catholic Church lobbied heavily to make sure religious groups were allowed to receive money from the PPP, the AP says. Their report found that the Los Angeles archdiocese spent $20,000 lobbying Congress to include “eligibility for non-profits” in the CARES Act, the legislation that formed the PPP. Records also show that Catholic Charities USA spent another $30,000 in CARES Act lobbying.

With its wealth and power, the Catholic Church is also plagued with controversy and scandal. For years, there have been reports that the Church has covered up for priests and other leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many entities of the church have had to shell out large sums of money in legal fees and settlements. 

The AP found that around 40 of the dioceses that have paid out “hundreds of millions of dollars” to related compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings received loans. These loans totaled at least $200 million.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Business Insider) (Market Watch)

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Employers Can Opt-Out of Birth Control Coverage, SCOTUS Rules

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  • In a Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court decided 7-2 that employers can opt-out of birth control coverage on religious grounds.
  • Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees. Exceptions had initially been made to houses of worship, but a 2018 Trump Administration rule expanded that to include most employers, ranging from large public businesses to universities.
  • The court sided with Trump, ruling that his administration had the authority to provide religious exemptions.
  • Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor cast the two dissenting votes, claiming it could harm healthcare access for women in the workforce.

SCOTUS Ruling

The Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration on Wednesday morning, ruling that employers can opt-out of providing birth control coverage on religious and moral grounds

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees, though exemptions were made for houses of worship who could refuse for religious reasons. Exemptions grew in 2014 when Hobby Lobby won a Supreme Court case ruling that certain closely held corporations, like family businesses, could also refuse birth control coverage if it contradicted their religious beliefs. 

Wednesday’s ruling pertained to a 2018 Trump administration policy that would allow most employers – ranging from small private businesses, to universities, to large public companies – to opt-out of contraception coverage for religious reasons. That rule was challenged by the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which claimed they would have to cover contraception costs to those who lost coverage under the Trump administration. 

The court’s decision responded to two cases: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania. In a 7-2 ruling, they sided with Trump. The two dissenting votes came from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. 

Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, said that the Trump administration “had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”

“It is clear from the face of the statute that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act],” he added.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a concurring opinion, claimed that the administration was “required by RFRA to create the religious exemption (or something very close to it).”

Ginsberg’s Dissent

This could leave as many as 126,000 women without access to contraception within a year. According to Planned Parenthood, nine out of ten women will seek access to contraception at some point in their lives. While birth control is often used as a contraceptive, it is also used for a variety of other health reasons, including regulating menstrual cycles, lowering risks for various forms of cancer, and managing migraines, endometriosis and other ailments. 

“This Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets,” Ginsberg wrote in the dissent. 

Ginsberg claimed that the court’s usually balanced approach of not allowing “the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs” was thrown away. 

“Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests,” she added.

Responses to Ruling

She was not alone in critiquing the rulings. The National Women’s Law Center called it “invasive, archaic, and dangerous.” The Center fears the ruling could have a larger impact on low wage workers, people of color, and LGBTQ people. 

Dr. Daniel Grossman, the head of a research group at the University of California, San Francisco called Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health also condemned the decision.

“No employer is welcome into the exam room when I talk to patients about their contraception options, why should they be able to dictate the method from their corner office?” he asked. 

On the other side, Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council applauded the Supreme Court. 

“It should be common sense to allow a religious group to conduct themselves according to their religious convictions, and yet government agents have tried to punish them with obtuse fines for doing just that,” Perkins said in a statement. “We are pleased to see the Supreme Court still recognizes religious freedom.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Associate Press) (New York Times)

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