Georgia candidates for US Senate discuss plans to support HBCUs

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – With less than two months until the election, Georgia candidates for U.S. Senate are laying out their plans to support historically Black colleges and universities in the Peach State.

Earlier this week, Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff took stabs at his opponent, Republican Sen. David Perdue, after presenting his plan to support HBCUs if elected.

WSAV NOW spoke with both campaigns, as well as the interim president of Georgia’s oldest public HBCU, to learn more about the plans and areas that need to be addressed.

Importance of federal aid

When the pandemic began to impact in-person instruction, administrators at Savannah State University, Georgia’s oldest public HBCU, knew they would have to quickly make changes.

Interim-President Kimberly Ballard Washington says CARES Act funding has allowed the university to combat some of the effects of the pandemic.

“It allowed us to help the students,” she said. “Money came to us in a grant format, but we had to directly give it to the students.”

Funding from other rounds of the CARES Act paid food and housing expenses after reimbursements were issued to students. It also funded the university’s inaugural transition from in-person to virtual instruction, a project that got fast-tracked because of the pandemic.

In a normal world, Ballard-Washington says there’s always a great need for private donations for student scholarships.

The pandemic has created a greater need for an institution that plays a vital role in the success of the Black community.

“We need to change the future for Black America and the way that I think we change the future for Black America is through education,” she said.

Ossoff presents a staggered approach

In a virtual press conference on Thursday, Ossoff laid out his extensive plan for Georgia’s HBCUs.

The main points of the plan focus on making public colleges debt-free, emphasizing a need for making HBCUs debt-free for their students.

He also addresses funding for emergency pandemic support, facilities, virtual program expansions, endowment growths and more.

He feels current federal legislation, like the FUTURE Act and the CARES Act, don’t do enough to support these institutions.

“I support the FUTURE Act and the CARES Act,” said Ossoff. “But if that legislation was adequate, then Savannah State University, Paine College, other HBCUs in Georgia wouldn’t be facing the very difficult circumstances that they are right now.”

Ossoff told WSAV NOW that he’s held roundtable discussions for months with administrators, students and alumni of HBCUs in the Peach State to develop the plan.

Perdue touts previous legislative wins

Contrary to his opponent, Perdue’s campaign has not released a detailed plan outlying the senator’s plans for HBCUs if he were to win a second term.

His campaign officials say his legislative achievements for HBCUs speak for themselves.

“Senator Perdue has delivered for HBCUs,” said Casey Black, senior spokeswoman for Perdue for Senate. “He’s delivered for HBCU students in a variety of ways. And these institutions can count on funding because Senator Perdue helped lead the effort to make that [happen].”

Perdue has helped support HBCUs during the pandemic by pushing for additional funding allocations in the CARES Act.

Black also referenced his effort for more infrastructure investments, agriculture scholarships for HBCU students, and his membership in the Congressional HBCU Caucus amongst other areas.

“If Ossoff is presenting himself as an alternative, David Perdue has already delivered for HBCUs and he will continue to do that,” said Black.

Overall, both campaigns say that more needs to be done to support these institutions in Georgia and across the country.

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