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Keeping it: Harvard responds to Trump’s call to return relief money

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Amid growing consternation over large corporations maneuvering to acquire loans intended for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, which was included in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, President Trump singled out Harvard University, saying he will ask the school to return coronavirus relief funds.

Harvard reportedly would receive more than $8 million in funding, and the president pointed to the Ivy League school’s enormous $40.9 billion endowment to say it shouldn’t be taking the money and that he will ask them to give it back.

The topic of large businesses and institutions receiving grants under the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program that were intended for small businesses came up during Tuesday’s White House coronavirus briefing — the fund ran out of money last week.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was asked if these companies would be asked to return the money.

“I’m going to request it,” Trump interjected, naming Harvard specifically. “Harvard is going to pay back the money. They shouldn’t be taking it.”

 

“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. They’re going to pay back the money,” the president added.

Mnuchin stressed “the intent of this money was not for big public companies that have access to capital,” but said the certification process may have been unclear and that big companies that applied will be given “the benefit of the doubt” — if they return the money.

“Certain people under PPP may not have been clear in understanding the certification, so we’re going to give people the benefit of the doubt,” he explained. “If you pay back the loan right away, you won’t have liability to the [Small Business Administration] and to Treasury, but there are severe consequences who don’t attest properly to the certification.”

Shake Shack is among a few corporations that have already returned the money.

“We want to make sure this money is available to small businesses that need it, people who have invested their entire life savings,” Mnuchin added.

Harvard would later push back, noting that the university did not apply for PPP funds, but took advantage of a $14 billion Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund that was included in the CARES Act — which doesn’t detract from the fact that the school is one of the richest institutions on the planet.

A statement from the university indicated that it has no plans to return the taxpayer money.

“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,” said spokesman Jonathan Swain. “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.”

“Like most colleges and universities, Harvard has been allocated funds as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund,” the release added. “Harvard has committed that 100% of these emergency higher education funds will be used to provide direct assistance to students facing urgent financial needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Other top private schools are also slated to receive funding, including Columbia and Cornell, with each school on tap to receive $12.8 million, according to the Daily Mail. Another $9.9 million will go to the University of Pennsylvania.

Fox News’ Bret Baier would later ask Trump how confident he was in being able to “claw back money.”

 

“Harvard should pay that money back. I want Harvard to pay the money back,” the president said. “If they won’t do that, then we won’t do something else. They have to pay it back. I don’t like it.”

“I don’t like it,” he repeated. “This is meant for workers, this isn’t meant for one of the richest institutions in the world.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a Harvard alum, also called for the university to return the money.

He tweeted: “This is ridiculous. Taxpayer relief funds should go to those in real need. Harvard University has a $41bn endowment—the largest in the world. Put another way, Harvard’s endowment is $13mm per student, or $171mm per faculty member.”

Tom Tillison

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