Lawmakers, students and faculty call on CUNY admin to use stimulus funds to increasing staffing, improve COVID-19 safety

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People walk by a CUNY campus in the city. (Courtesy of CUNY)

A handful of New York City lawmakers and members from a coalition of CUNY organizations are asking for a voice in how the public university system uses its remaining federal stimulus funds. 

Outside of the Borough of Manhattan Community College on Tuesday, CUNY students, members of the faculty union the Professional Staff Congress as well as members of CUNY Rising Alliance, a group of student, community, and labor groups, called on administrators to use the $386 million in federal funds to improve the public university´s ventilation system, rehire laid-off adjuncts and hiring more full-time mental health counselors and advisors. 

“Our federal stimulus funds should be utilized in the best interest of our institutions. Throughout this pandemic CUNY has faced unprecedented challenges and the time is now for local campuses to implement innovative investments on our CUNY campuses. New York City’s comeback starts with equitable investment into our CUNY community, and we have a chance to get it done and make a difference,” said Juvanie Piquant, chair of the CUNY University Student Senate.

Rally members stressed that students are returning to in-person classes at CUNY campuses in worse conditions than before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City. ¨The facilities and existing social-emotional programs at CUNY campuses do not meet the current standards necessary to provide students with a safe and adequate education,¨ said Assemblymember Karines Reyes, a sponsor of the New Deal for CUNY. 

The New Deal for CUNY refers to a bundle of bills meant to improve the quality of education and student life across all CUNY campuses by lowering the faculty-to-student ratio, boosting the number of mental health care providers accessible to students, and making degree programs free for qualifying students.

“I am proud to echo CUNY Rising Alliance’s call that the remaining stimulus money for CUNY be released in a timely and transparent manner.  These emergency funds were expressly allocated for staff and course offerings–and we must ensure the funds go to exactly that.  But the conversation is about more than a one-time down payment. It’s critical we pass the New Deal for CUNY to protect this critical resource for the working and middle class for the long term. By re-establishing CUNY as an engine of social and economic mobility, we will prepare our students for the workforce of the future and revitalize our economy,“ said state Senator Andrew Gounardes, another sponse of the New Deal for CUNY.

“CUNY has used federal stimulus funds help our students navigate the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. CUNY launched the CUNY Comeback Program, which so far 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, said a CUNY spokesperson. “CUNY also used a portion of the institutional stimulus funds to purchase thousands of laptops and mobile hotspots for students who were otherwise unable to participate in distance learning, and to bolster mental health services, reaching students with face-to-face online counseling and other remote wellness services. The University expects to distribute a third round of Student Emergency Relief Grants this fall.”

Note: This article was updated at 2:00 p.m. on October 6, 2021 with comments from the City University of New York.