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Harvard Under Fire Over Federal Funding

FILE - A gate opens to the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dec. 13, 2018.

Harvard University says it has not applied for or received federal funds intended for small businesses during the COVID pandemic but has received other funds earmarked for U.S. colleges and universities.

"Harvard did not apply for, nor has it received any funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses. Reports saying otherwise are inaccurate," the university tweeted Tuesday amid a storm of controversy over the school taking taxpayer money while it operates a $40.9 billion endowment.

"Like most colleges and universities, Harvard has been allocated funds as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund," the university's official account tweeted.

"By federal formula laid out in the CARES Act, Harvard was allocated $8.6 million, with 50% of those funds to be reserved for grants to students. Harvard will actually allocate 100% of the funds to financial assistance for students."

News erupted on social media that Harvard — which has the largest endowment of all U.S. universities — received $8.6 million in public funds for COVID-19 related disruption.

Thousands of people tweeted that Harvard was a privileged institution with ample funding and should not be granted or accept any public funding. President Donald Trump, other politicians and notable Harvard alumni also contributed to the issue.

"Harvard should give back the money now. Their whole 'endowment' system should be looked at!" tweeted Trump. In a daily COVID press conference, he said, "I want Harvard to pay the money back, OK? If they won't do that, then we won't do something else."

"President Trump is right," Harvard responded, "that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses."

A defender of Harvard pointed to the university's needs-blind admissions policy, which admits students on merit and ensures their education funding.

"So they should spend down the endowment instead?" tweeted writer S.V. Date. "And then what? Offer fewer scholarships to poor families? Because Harvard does quite a lot of that. Further, the money they got was specifically for colleges to help students. It wasn't PPP money."

Other Ivy League institutions — nicknamed for being long-established in higher education and selectivity — are receiving similar funding. Yale was allocated $6.8 million, while Cornell and Columbia universities, both in New York, are getting $12.8 million each. Yale's endowment is $30 billion. Cornell has an endowment of $7.3 billion; Columbia's endowment is $10.9 billion.

The federal Department of Education, which released $6 billion for colleges and universities "to provide direct emergency cash grants to students" less than a month ago, added $6.2 billion more "to ensure learning continues," the department said Tuesday.

"The funding is available through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump," the education department said in a release Tuesday.