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UPDATED: April 21, 2020, 7:24 p.m.
United States President Donald Trump said in a press conference Tuesday evening that he would request Harvard return the nearly $9 million it was granted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
At the press conference, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the aid money was not intended for “big public companies.”
“And not for Harvard,” Trump added.
Trump referenced the size of Harvard’s endowment at the press conference. The endowment was valued at $40.9 billion dollars as of Spring 2019. Top administrators, however, say it has likely shrunk as a result of the pandemic.
“Harvard’s going to pay back the money,” Trump said. “And they shouldn’t be taking it. So Harvard’s going to. You have a number of — 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.”
It remains unclear by what mechanism, exactly, the University would return the funds. Indeed, Harvard may not have received the allocated money yet — as of Friday, the Department of Education had only provided $6 million in aid to colleges nationwide, according to Politico.
The White House declined to comment further.
Yesterday, after receiving backlash from several prominent Republican politicians, the University announced it would dedicate 100 percent of the $8.6 million it received from the CARES Act to student financial assistance.
Though Mnuchin referenced businesses in his comments, funds for businesses and funds for higher education come from two separate parts of the CARES Act, which Trump signed into law on March 27.
The funds allocated to Harvard stem from a $14 billion allocation to the Department of Education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The funds for small businesses were allocated by the Small Business Administration through the Paycheck Protection Program, which had a separate $349 billion allocation.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard has not applied for or received funds through the Paycheck Protection Program, which he said would have been inappropriate.
“Harvard did not apply for, nor has it received any funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. Reports saying otherwise are inaccurate. President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses,” Swain wrote.
Swain reiterated that 100 percent of the CARES ACT funds will go to student financial assistance.
“This financial assistance will be on top of the support the University has already provided to students – including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need, and supporting students’ transition to online education," Swain wrote.
Later in the press conference, another reporter asked Trump how confident he was that he’d be able to “claw back” funds from Harvard and others.
“Well, look, I don’t like when Harvard that has, I think, a $40 billion dollar endowment, or some incredible amount of money, that Harvard gets this money? Harvard should pay this money back. I want Harvard to pay that money back,” Trump said. “And if they won’t do that, then we won’t do something else. They have to pay it back. I don’t like it.”
Trump also suggested that the funds that Harvard is set to receive were intended for businesses, though they were not.
“This is meant for workers. This isn’t meant for one of the richest institutions — not only, far beyond schools — in the world. They gotta pay it back. I want them to pay it back,” Trump added.
—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.
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