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Residential Services will now pay for shipping students' belongings left before the spring eviction back to their homes. 

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Following student outcry over the high costs to ship dorm items back to their homes, Penn Residential Services will now subsidize shipping costs for items left in the College Houses from spring 2020.

The shipping process will begin around mid-September and take several weeks to complete, Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian on Monday. Students should expect to receive an email next week which asks them to verify their ship-to address and provide additional information. Procedures and shipping costs differ across moving companies, which Residential Services assigned to students in May.

Residential Services’ new policy reversal comes against the backdrop of a slew of administrative cost-cutting measures to combat expenses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The retrieval process has become a lightning rod for criticism from students, many of whom have been without most of their belongings for months or have returned to Penn only to find stored items missing or broken.

Penn will honor insurance claims submitted to National Student Services, Inc. and settle them unconditionally, subject to a limit of $4,500, according to Lea-Kruger's email.

Due to the closure of on-campus housing for the fall semester, Lea-Kruger wrote that Residential Services realized many students who expected to be reunited with their belongings this fall will no longer be able to do so, which would leave them without belongings for almost one year. 

“Our residents have been without their belongings since spring with the expectation that these items would be returned to them when they returned to campus this fall,” Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to the DP.  “Understanding that most have not been able to return to campus and recognizing the inconvenience and hardship extending the period of storage may have, Residential Services will now be paying to ship items to students to their homes.”

Residential Services previously gave students the option to pick up their belongings for free from the Penn Tennis Center or their assigned moving company's warehouse, while students who wanted their belongings shipped to their homes had to pay out-of-pocket. Students could also opt to have their belongings stored for free until January 2021. 

Before the policy change, students told the DP it was unfair for them to incur expensive shipping fees or risk contracting coronavirus on the trek to the Penn Tennis Center to retrieve their belongings. Some students could only speculate shipping costs due to poor communication from their assigned moving companies on how their items were packed or the number of boxes under their name. 

Though Residential Services promised students the opportunity to schedule a video conference with their assigned moving company during the packing process this summer, not one of the 14 students the DP spoke to was able to do so. As a result, they could not arrange to have certain priority items shipped home and the rest stored.

Many students also told the DP they were frustrated with the ambiguity of shipping costs — neither of the moving companies School Storage nor Sinclair Moving & Storage lists shipping rates on their websites. Procedures and shipping costs differ across moving companies — School Storage charges a $25 "prep to ship" fee per box to weigh, measure and print the shipping label, in addition to actual shipping fees. One student told the DP that Sinclair Moving & Storage charged $208 to ship just two boxes to her home in Atlanta.

Months ago, institutions such as Yale University allowed students to ship unlimited boxes to their homes for free, while Duke University allowed returning students to ship up to four boxes for free. Columbia University provided up to $500 in emergency funding to students who needed it for packing, transportation, and storage fees.

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