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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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Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation

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Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.


Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed

A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.

The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.

In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.

“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”

Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.

“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”

Potential Litigation

If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.

A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”

Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.

Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.

Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11

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Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works

Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.

While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.

Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults. 

Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage. 

That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.

Overeager Parents

While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course. 

With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.

“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Axios)

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Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air

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While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.


Booster Rollout in Flux

President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.

The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.

However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.

The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.

Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.

Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.

Debate Continues in Crucial Week

More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.

On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.

The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide. 

On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.

The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.” 

Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.

Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.

“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”

Uncertain Future

It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.

Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.

Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.

Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.

“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Guardian)

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