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Augusta Commission OKs $1.4 million in CARES Act funds for Paine College

September 3, 2020

The Augusta Commission agreed Tuesday to give Paine College $1.4 million in CARES Act funding to cover educational expenses and facility upgrades.

At a called meeting, the motion passed 8-2 with commissioner Mary Davis and Mayor Pro Tem Sean Frantom opposed.

The historically Black college wrote a request for funding dated Tuesday, the deadline for cities to finalize their plans to spend the pandemic relief funds. The commission had not openly discussed the request until Tuesday. Augusta is eligible for up to $10.4 million in reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses from a state allocation, while the city Housing and Community Development Department is administering additional CARES Act grants.

Paine President Cheryl Evans Jones said the college would use the largest portion of funds, $250,000, for virtual classrooms, smart labs and mobile instruction. An additional $200,000 each would go to residence hall improvements and faculty and staff retention, along with $198,000 for student laptops.

Paine already has received at least $1.7 million in CARES Act funding available to higher education institutions nationwide. Augusta University received $6.1 million of the same funds. Paine also obtained a Payroll Protection Program loan of at least $1 million.

Most on the commission embraced the request Tuesday, despite several others who expressed reservations.

"All of us are fully aware of Paine's role in our community," Mayor Hardie Davis said.

The pandemic has placed already vulnerable historically Black colleges and universities in a precarious position as they continue to educate and employ Black people at greater risk from COVID-19.

Paine has educated many city leaders and residents, although its Southern Association of Colleges' accreditation remains in limbo for financial reasons, pending the end of litigation.

Frantom asked whether anyone had discussed the other city shortfalls the funds might be needed for.

"How can we approve that without even knowing what we're going to need?" he said.

Commissioner Bobby Williams made the motion to approve the allocation.

"When we put in for the money and it comes back to us, it is our money for us to do what we want to do with it," he said.

"Within those eligible (categories) we can use that money as we see fit," Davis said.

While the state-allocated federal funding will supply the local government up to $10.4 million, there are "multiple pots of CARES Act money that we are coming into," Davis said.

Commissioner John Clarke voted in favor of proving Paine the funds, subject to approval by the city attorney. He said earlier he and other commissioners had been left out of funding discussions.

"Some people know things and other people don't," Clarke said.

Paine's request prompted the meeting called by the mayor Monday with less than two hours' notice, according to documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle.

Paine alums were sent a script Monday to ask commissioners for the funds prior to the meeting, documents show. The meeting was called off and postponed to 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, when commissioners discussed the request.

By Susan McCord - Posted Sep 1, 2020 at 3:35 PM

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