“We’re always excited to get additional funding for any needy students,” Mr. Wilder said.
In the coming months, the Education Department will award $100 million in additional emergency funding to colleges and universities and their students in areas directly affected by hurricanes and wildfires, and $75 million to help defray costs for those that took in students from the affected areas.
But congressional leaders wrote last month that the voluminous application, which requires two applications and a detailed accounting of expenses and funding received thus far, would place on Puerto Rico a “significant and unnecessary burden that was never intended by Congress.”
Several parties protested the department’s application process, including the American Federation of Teachers and Felix V. Matos Rodriguez, the president of Queens College in New York.
Lawmakers noted that the application process for this round of funding was markedly different from the other disaster relief disbursements of similar scale. In 2005, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, institutions in Louisiana and Mississippi were able to gain access to $190 million in congressionally appropriated funds without an application.
And they noted of the most recent disbursements: “It is unclear why institutions located in the disaster areas and experienced greater harm are being subjected to disproportionate hurdles relative to institutions that experienced no damage at all.”
Education department officials said the current process was used in 2009 for natural disasters. They said they have not historically administered the application in Spanish and would not do so now so they can administer aid as quickly as possible.
Lillian Negrón Colón, president of the Universidad Central de Bayamón and president of ACUP, wrote that the department’s application “constitutes an overwhelming task at a most critical point.”
“In just a few months, the island will be entering its 2018 hurricane season,” she said, “and our people, including us who are trying to keep institutions of higher learning operational, are still struggling.”