CUNY press conference calls for investment of stimulus funds into its schools

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PSC CUNY

Maya Demchak-Gottlieb

The CUNY Rising Alliance and its affiliates, assembly members, senators and council members addressed the remaining $386 million in COVID-19 emergency aid for CUNY and the legislation deemed the “New Deal for CUNY” at a press conference on Oct. 5.

Attendees of the press conference at Borough of Manhattan Community College urged the prioritization of rehiring laid-off adjuncts, adding full-time mental health counselors and improving infrastructure to safeguard against the virus.

“We need action now from CUNY to hire mental health specialists that can provide trauma-informed care, infrastructural improvements to the ventilation systems to ensure the health and well-being of our students, and a restoration of critical services that were cut as a result of the pandemic,” New York City Councilmember Vanessa Gibson said.

The groups also called for transparency in the allocation of COVID-19 funds moving forward.

“We need to ensure that as schools open again that there is transparency about how the funds that our CUNYs receive are spent,” New York State Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez said at the press conference. “Those who work at our universities know the best way to spend these funds and they deserve a voice in how they are being allocated.”

CUNY Rising Alliance Campaign Director Rémysell Salas echoed Fernandez’s calls for transparency and urged the CUNY administration to listen to the demands of the community.

“Our requests to CUNY administrators are clear and simple,” Salas said. “We request a voice in the allocation process of the remaining $386 million that is budgeted.”

COVID-19 funding that has already been spent went to aiding students negatively affected by the pandemic.

One example of the use of the COVID-19 funding is the CUNY Comeback Program, a program designed to provide support to students who have encountered financial hardships due to the pandemic.

“[The program] has forgiven nearly $95 million of student debt to more than 52,000 students, many of whom have suffered tremendous hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as distribute $236 million in two rounds of federal emergency grants to about 161,000 students for each round,” a CUNY spokesperson said.

The funds were also used to address challenges created by the transition to virtual learning, which required the purchase of laptops and the establishment of hotspots.

To accommodate the mental health concerns created by the pandemic, CUNY also invested a portion of the funds into Zoom online counseling and other remote wellness services.

The debate over COVID-19 funds has shed a light on funding issues for CUNY at large.

Representatives at the press conference took the opportunity to discuss the New Deal for CUNY, a bill proposed in the New York State Senate that would require minimum ratios of faculty and mental health counselors to students, among other objectives.

The legislation would also address the issue of providing additional CUNY tuition assistance.

The goal of the bill is to improve the quality of education and student life across all CUNY campuses both during and after the pandemic.

“NYC needs CUNY to recover for the city to recover,” Lucas Sanchez, deputy director of New York Communities for Change, said. “CUNY students are the economic engine and every resource available should be used to make sure that students are in the classroom with the services that they need to excel.”