Illinois universities petition lawmakers for billions more in COVID-19 relief

The presidents of the schools are asking for the money in order to aid economic recovery from COVID-19, and have also requested funding for academic research and liability protection against lawsuits.

Nine Illinois public universities are requesting additional emergency funding from Congress.

Universities in Illinois want more federal support in addition to CARES Act funding, citing severe economic damage caused by the pandemic. 

The presidents of the nine public universities in Illinois wrote a letter calling on federal lawmakers to consider the damage that Illinois schools have suffered as Congress discusses issuing another COVID-19 relief package, the News-Gazette reported

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According to the letter, the CARES Act provided students at public universities in Illinois with $68.5 million in financial aid grants. Now, the universities are asking Congress to distribute an additional $47 billion in funding to students and universities and at least $26 billion to federal research agencies that fund research projects, and salaries, at universities in Illinois.

Further, they request liability protections to defend universities from lawsuits, or “to help ensure that universities acting in good faith and following applicable public health standards do not face expensive and time-consuming litigation.” They’re also looking to obtain refundable tax credits for employees at public institutions, which would expand benefits such as paid sick leave. 

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The impact to the Illinois university system, estimated at the beginning of July, totals as much as $393.5 million, the presidents write -- a sum that encompasses refunds, resources for online learning, and cleaning and medical supplies. 

"Our universities will spend tens of millions more dollars as we commence fall operations,” the letter adds.

None of the nine Illinois public universities will fully return to campus in-person this fall, however. The majority of the schools have announced their plans to reopen using a hybrid model, where students take classes both online and in-person. 

The University of Illinois system, Northeastern Illinois University, and Northern Illinois University, and Eastern Illinois University are offering a mixture of both in-person and online courses. Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University, and Illinois State University will modify their academic schedules, sending students home following Thanksgiving. 

Chicago State University says that its students will take the majority of their classes online.

Governors State University is not clear in its plan for reopening campus but the website suggests a number of fall courses will remain online. 

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