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The COVID-19 Community Archiving Project will collect submissions from the Penn community that can be used by future historians and scholars seeking insight into life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Chase Sutton

COVID-19 has left businesses, families, and private institutions in financial crisis. Now, almost everyone is begging the government for money. When they don’t receive money, they often blame those who do receive it.

Last week, President Amy Gutmann rejected 9.9 Million dollars in funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. After receiving this funding, Penn received significant pressure from both insiders and outsiders of the Penn community to reject the package. In times like these, we must consider which institutions really need the money. Given the Penn's wealth, the University is not one of those institutions. That being said, while I agree with Penn’s decision, I do not condone the intense criticism they have received from the public.

Penn, with an endowment of $14.7 billion dollars, made the correct decision in rejecting the CARES act. This is not to say that members of the Penn community do not need money; an argument many use when describing their hatred for wealthy, elitist institutions. Most years, less than 10 percent of the student body rely on full financial aid. While these students would have benefitted the most from CARES Act, Penn has the funds to help students. Despite donors setting restrictions on how their gifts ought to be allocated, 17% of the 14.7 billion dollar endowment is typically reserved for financial aid. After declining the funds offered, the University released a statement remarking that “[their] commitment to providing financial aid and support to students in need is unwavering, and [they] will continue to do all that we can to ensure the educational success of all Penn students.” 

Penn has started to distribute money back to other students, yet the University still has a long way to go in terms of supporting students from low socioeconomic status. Penn, unlike other institutions, has the means of providing for students. Now, it is only a matter of action. 

That being said, wealthy universities have faced more criticism than they ought to. When President Trump criticized wealthy, private institutions for receiving the fund, he essentially criticized himself for signing off on an act he disagreed with. Similarly to other institutions,  Penn did not request nor apply for federal relief funds. Thus, to simply attack Penn as well as other institutions for receiving something they did not request for is uncalled for. 

Recently Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized Penn for the size of the grant it received. And by criticizing the size, Carlson criticized something out of Penn’s control. Carlson’s remarks reflect the growing dissent from the public against institutions and companies who have received the federally funded aid. 

This anger is misdirected. The public should direct criticism towards Congress who created the act and the President who signed off on it. Yes, Americans ought to put pressure on well-established institutions and businesses to reject these funds. However, people should direct criticism to Congress and to the Trump administration during this national crisis. The recent media attention against wealthy institutions is uncalled for and frankly, a distraction from truly creating successful federal aid packages. 

Penn’s rejection of the stimulus package was the right thing to do as it prompts the money to go to people truly in need. But more significantly, it highlights the error in the stimulus package plan. Let’s not get caught up in pointing blame at higher education institutions or businesses; let’s instead think about solutions for the next act or paid program. Let’s think about how to get out of this national crisis. 

EMILIA ONUONGA is a College first-year from Middletown, Del. studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Her email address is eonuonga@sas.upenn.edu 

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