I write today to update you on CUNY’s budget process and fiscal environment for the 2020-21 academic year.

CUNY is not immune to the economic challenges and uncertainties engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, and in the absence of federal funding to help our State and City through this crisis, our fiscal outlook remains uncertain. While we wait for the federal government to exercise leadership, supporting states and cities impacted by the coronavirus, the Board of Trustees and my office have agreed to some interim steps to give us time until we have all the information at hand to make final budgetary decisions. These steps include:

  • Traditionally, the Board would have voted on a budget by May or June. This year, we are delaying the presentation and approval process of the 2020-21 CUNY budget until more information is available regarding another federal stimulus bill. This includes the vote on the proposed tuition increase and health and wellness fee.
  • In the meantime, and to guarantee the uninterrupted operation of our University, we have authorized the colleges and Central administration to operate on a month-by-month basis (instead of annual) so they can continue to cover expenses such as payroll and purchasing.
  • We have reappointed college assistants and other hourly employees on a month-by-month basis beginning with July, and we are doing the same for August. Similarly, we would have liked to postpone the re-appointment process for adjuncts until our budget is finalized but, as you are aware, the PSC did not consent to our proposal. This forced us to make final decisions by June 30, at a time when we did not have a complete picture of our financial outlook. If the fiscal and enrollment situation are more favorable in August, we plan to re-appoint as many adjuncts as we can.
  • We have almost completed the allocation of the $118 million CARES Act funds in direct aid to students. Because we moved promptly upon receiving the funds, we were one of the first Universities in the nation to distribute the funds starting on May 22. Regarding the $132 million of CARES Act funding that is to be allocated directly to the campuses, we submitted a plan to the State that prioritized student support and mental health services, reimbursements to campuses for COVID 19-related costs such as refunds, and investments in online infrastructure and training. We are optimistic that this student-centered approach will promote maintenance of our overall enrollment levels and sustain our students’ academic momentum. That plan has been approved by the State, but we have decided to postpone the use of these funds until we conclude our budget process, in case adjustments are required. In light of the financial uncertainties we face, this is the most prudent way to proceed.
  • We will continue the efforts of the Vacancy Review Board and the University hiring freeze, which to date have generated $17 million in annualized savings for FY 2020-21.

While I remain hopeful that the federal government will act as it should, I also know that these are financially challenging times, as we saw with the City’s recently adopted FY 2021 budget. The adopted budget totals $88.2 billion, a reduction of more than $9.5 billion from FY 2020, and it includes agency savings initiatives of more than $1.5 billion. We are grateful that the budget ultimately restored funding or partial funding for key CUNY programs, and included an additional $30 million to cover contractually negotiated, fixed, and mandatory costs such as fringe benefits, building rentals, and utilities. Those increases, however, are offset by an additional $25.3 million in efficiency targets above those announced for FY 2020. This means that CUNY’s total savings target from the City for FY 2021 is $46.3 million, about 9% of the community colleges’ total operating budget.

These are difficult times, emotionally as well as financially, with challenges that remain formidable amid a climate of persistent uncertainty. I appreciate your dedication to CUNY and to our students, and I know that together, we will push forward and persevere. As additional information becomes available, I will continue to keep you apprised. You have my unwavering gratitude.

By Félix V. Matos Rodríguez