Empty Campus

A person walks along Centennial Mall Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at Montana State University in Bozeman.

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Montana colleges and universities stand to receive $31 million from the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package just passed by Congress.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, announced the aid to higher education in a news release Monday, saying it was part of a total of $1.25 billion heading to Montana local governments, small businesses and individuals for virus emergency relief.

Montana State University, Bozeman’s largest employer, has estimated it faces a loss of up to $7 million for canceled dormitory and dining hall fees. And that doesn’t count the costs of canceled athletic events and concerts and putting most in-person classes online.

“We are deeply grateful for this critical funding to help Montana’s educational institutions continue to serve our students and communities,” said Karen Ogden, communications director for the Montana University System. It will help “weather the immediate losses as we develop our long-term recovery strategy.”

The state University System will receive $27 million from the virus bill. It will be provided to campuses according to a formula based on numbers of full-time students and low-income students qualifying for Pell grants, Ogden said.

Half the money will go to student emergency funds — direct grants to students for expenses from the disruption of campuses, which could cover food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and childcare.

Half will go to colleges to defray lost revenue and costs of delivering classes online.

More than $10.5 million will go to MSU in Bozeman, the state’s largest campus, while the University of Montana in Missoula will receive $8.1 million, according to MUS estimates.

MSU-Billings would receive $2.2 million, Montana Tech $1.7 million, UM-Western $1.2 million, Great Falls College MSU $1 million, MSU Northern $986,000 and Helena College $732,000. Community colleges would receive $1.3 million and tribal colleges $2 million.

“Montana’s colleges and universities help drive our state’s economy, pioneer advances in medicine and technology, and educate the next generation of students,” Tester said in the release. “This funding will help provide some relief and certainty to ensure our higher education institutions have the tools they need stay afloat during these uncertain times.”

Both Tester and Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines voted with the rest of the U.S. Senate 96-0 last week to pass the unprecedented bill.

Daines praised the coronavirus economic relief package, saying it will provide Montana workers, small business, hospitals, and state and local governments more than $1 billion in emergency help, and expand unemployment insurance, help small businesses stay open, support health care workers and hospitals on the front lines fighting the virus.

“It’s going to bring relief to workers, working families and small business across Montana,” Daines said.

Tester said that the $1.25 billion for Montana relief was part of $150 billion for state, local and tribal governments to set up relief funds, money that wasn’t part of the initial draft put forward by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Tester said that he “fought tooth and nail” to add relief for working Montanans and small businesses, and not just large corporations.

The $2 trillion emergency relief bill, the largest ever passed by Congress, was intended to save a U.S. economy suddenly frozen in response to the virus, which meant millions of Americans lost their jobs in one week. The bill includes $1,200 for individuals, plus billions for hospitals and community health centers, medical supplies, vaccine development, mental health, small business grants, unemployment insurance, K-12 schools, veterans, tribes, farmers and ranchers, Amtrak, airports and transit systems.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.