CICU President Mary Beth Labate Testifies on Impact of Covid-19 on State-Funded Financial Aid

News Date: 9/22/2020

CICU President Mary Beth Labate testified before a hearing on the impact of Covid-19 on state-funded financial aid programs including the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) held by the Assembly Higher Education committee and the Assembly Subcommittee on TAP.

Below is an excerpt of her testimony:

"As you know, the COVID-19 health crisis has touched all corners of our society and it has hit New York’s college students particularly hard. An abrupt end to spring semester caused students to scramble and return home to login to online portals and participate in virtual lectures. Many seniors lost out on the graduation ceremonies and celebrations they worked so hard for these last four years. For those of you with a college student in your life, you likely also felt this impact. And for those of you with colleges and universities in your district, you felt the loss of economic activity from not having students in town and from graduation celebrations being held virtually.

Now our students are facing another obstacle, which is putting at risk their ability to continue their education. As a result of the federal government’s inability to provide sufficient financial relief to states, New York’s college students could lose critical financial aid. For more than 50 years, programs such as the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and Bundy Aid have empowered millions of students to pursue higher education at the college of their choice. Today, more than 250,000 low income students receive TAP annually, approximately 5,000 participate in the transformative power of HEOP, nearly 3,000 receive financial aid from the Enhanced Tuition Awards Program, and students in more than 100 private colleges benefit from the financial aid and supports made possible by Bundy Aid. If the federal government fails to provide necessary and adequate aid to states, New York State has suggested it will cut these programs by 20 percent cut. Were this to happen, countless students will be forced to make the difficult decision of whether or not they can continue their studies.

As of today, the state has not released the remainder of students’ TAP payment for the 2019-20 academic year that just ended and no student aid payments have been made for the 2020-21 academic year. Many of these students have already started their classes and transitioned to college life. Students were notified by the Higher Education Services Corporation of their award amount and they expect this amount to be applied to this semester’s tuition bills. For the academic year that recently concluded, bills are due and financial aid that was promised to students to cover their costs has yet to materialized. We trust that the state’s tardy payments for last year’s TAP awards is a cash management challenge that will quickly be resolved. If not, low income students are left to cover a gap that they neither created nor are in a position to easily resolve. Having lost over $1 billion in the pandemic, many of our colleges, all of whom provide generous amounts of financial aid, will not be in a position to fill the gap caused by a retroactive cut to TAP.

CICU applauds the heroic efforts that Governor Cuomo, the Legislature and everyday people have taken to reverse the course of COVID-19. However, these measures have had devastating financial implications for many of the families of students who qualify for these financial aid programs. While a 20 percent across-the-board cut might seem equal on paper, it is not an equitable solution to closing the holes in New York’s budget. Financial aid and opportunity programs, like TAP and HEOP, support students from families with the lowest incomes and the widest attainment gaps. We cannot cut support to our poorest students at a time when their families are already facing dire financial challenges. It is incumbent on all of us to find more equitable alternatives. Many of these students and their family members are the same essential workers we have praised for working on the frontlines of this pandemic. They work in hospitals and grocery stores and keep New Yorkers moving on public transportation. To be told that their children will not receive the financial support they need in order to stay in college is no way to treat those who have risked so much for the health and safety of their fellow New Yorkers."

Click here to read her full testimony.