The University of Wisconsin System was awarded nearly $100 million in federal aid in 2020 to offset financial losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

UW System Vice President for Finance Sean Nelson told the UW Board of Regents Thursday, Dec. 10, that UW System's net financial position increased slightly in fiscal year 2019-2020. That's despite historic revenue losses from student housing and dining refunds after state universities closed this spring due to COVID-19.

Nelson said part of the reason UW System fared as well as it did was $99.3 million in federal aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March. He said $72.3 million of that was spent by UW System and universities in 2020, while the rest of the funds will be used to offset unexpected costs from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

Regent José Delgado seemed surprised to hear the financial picture wasn't any worse.

"Six months ago, we were looking at this year as a potential disaster for the perspective of the impact of COVID, the loss of revenue, the increase of expenses," said Delgado. "Now we hear that the situation is pretty stable from the perspective of income and expenses."

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Nelson told Delgado that the full extent of the pandemic's economic impact on state universities won't be known until next December, when the UW System releases its next financial report. He said COVID-19 only affected the last four months of the 2019-2020 fiscal year and those impacts were mitigated by the federal aid.

"I'm really looking ahead to (fiscal year 2021)," said Nelson. "I think it would be a very different story next year on the impact of COVID-19. And so we're being very vigilant about where our campuses stand, I think as we go through the end of this fall and into next spring."

According to the UW System's annual financial report, state funding increased by $1.7 million during the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The document notes the UW System was expecting a larger increase based on new appropriations from the state Legislature. But in April, Gov. Tony Evers ordered state agencies to cut around $70 million from their budgets. For the UW System, that meant a cut of $40.8 million.

Evers also ordered state agencies to cut $250 million from their budgets over the next two years. In September, the UW System tweeted that it's share of that cut will be $45 million.

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