Trump says he will ask Harvard, big businesses to return coronavirus relief funds

President Trump said Tuesday that he is going to ask large businesses and institutions such as Harvard University to return money that they received as part of a coronavirus relief package. 

“I’m going to request it,” Trump told reporters at the White House, singling out the Ivy League school. “Harvard is going to pay back the money. They shouldn’t be taking it.”

“I’m not going to mention any other names, but when I saw Harvard — they have one of the largest endowments anywhere in the country, maybe in the world. They’re going to pay back the money,” the president added.

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package signed into law last month included hundreds of billions of dollars for small businesses impacted by state shutdowns due to the coronavirus while separately allocating billions to support higher education institutions.

Reports surfaced last week that Harvard would receive more than $8 million in funding.

A university spokesman emphasized in an emailed statement Tuesday that Harvard did not receive funds through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a small-business loan program under the relief package, and that the school is committed to using all of the funds to cover financial assistance to students.

“Like most colleges and universities, Harvard has been allocated funds as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Harvard has committed that 100% of these emergency higher education funds will be used to provide direct assistance to students facing urgent financial needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Harvard spokesman Jonathan Swain said.

“This financial assistance will be on top of the support the University has already provided to students – including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need, and supporting students’ transition to online education,” Swain added.

Trump’s remarks Tuesday came after he was asked about money issued through the PPP, which has come under scrutiny amid revelations that major restaurant chains, hotels and other big businesses were able to tap into funds meant for businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

The small-business loan program, initially funded at $350 billion, ran out of money last week. The Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to replenish the program’s coffers.

Asked later in the briefing if he was confident he would be successful in asking Harvard to return the money, Trump said that if the university “won’t do that, then we won’t do something else.” The president also noted the size of the university’s $40 billion endowment.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at Tuesday’s briefing that the Treasury Department would be issuing guidance on the certification that businesses need to meet in order to qualify for the PPP loans. 

Shake Shack, a major burger chain, announced Monday it would return $10 million it received through the program.

“We have over a million companies that have received this with less than 10 workers. There is very broad participation in really small business. I will comment there have been some big businesses that have taken these loans. I was pleased to see that Shake Shack returned the money,” Mnuchin said. “The intent of this was not for big public companies that have access to capital.”

Mnuchin also said he wanted to give companies the “benefit of the doubt” by assuming they didn’t understand the requirements but warned of consequences for large businesses that take advantage of the program.

Asked to expand on what those consequences could be, Mnuchin did not provide any specifics.

“We’re going to put up very clear guidance so that people understand what the certification is, what it means if you are a big company,” Mnuchin said.

Some have called for reform to the program, run by the Small Business Administration, in order to ensure that the funds go to small businesses in need.

The Senate on Tuesday afternoon passed legislation allocating more than $300 billion more for the lending program. Trump has endorsed the legislation, which was the product of negotiations between the White House and Congress, and Mnuchin said he expects the House to pass it on Wednesday.

Updated: 7:42 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Steven Mnuchin

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