UConn deficit could be as high as $109 million amid pandemic

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Budget cuts, furloughs and more state aid will be needed to address coronavirus-related losses in revenue at the University of Connecticut, the school's chief financial officer said Wednesday.

The school estimates it will end the fiscal year next June with a deficit of $76 million, finance chief Scott Jordan told the board of trustees. That could jump to about $109 million should the school be forced to close early by a resurgence of the virus, he said.

The school will ask the state Legislature for an additional $28 million to help close the budget gap, Jordan said. The university hopes to make up the rest through mitigation efforts including a hiring freeze, program cuts and forcing nonunion managers to take furlough days.

“Every department at the university has had to scale back their efforts and find savings, either through delays in hiring or elimination of positions, vacant positions or decreased expenditures of other goods and services,” he said.

UConn ended the 2020 fiscal year with a deficit of just $2.4 million, despite closing early because of pandemic, Jordan said. School finances were aided by $21 million in federal coronavirus relief funds, he said.

The school reported a higher-than-expected enrollment this fall, but said that because many students are learning remotely, UConn has seen a significant drop in housing and dining revenue.

Jordan warned the deficit could be affected by a need for additional financial aid for students whose own finances have been hurt by the pandemic.

UConn is also wary of the potential for cuts in state funding and a rise in fringe benefit costs, Jordan said. UConn already faces an annual deficit of more than $30 million a year in unfunded pension costs.

Officials at UConn Health, which includes the medical school and hospital, estimate their budget deficit at about $115 million, including more than $61 million related to COVID-19 losses.

The school said during the spring that it lost more than $1 million per day while treating coronavirus patients, while all other surgeries and nonurgent procedures were suspended.

Jeffrey Geoghegan, UConn Health's chief financial officer, said its mitigation plan includes requesting $76.9 million in new state assistance, furloughing managers, deferring about $5 million in capital costs and reducing expenses by about $15 million.

In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:

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QUARANTINE SUPPORT

Gov. Ned Lamont's administration is offering residents in need who test positive for COVID-19 new resources to help them self-quarantine and prevent further spread of the virus, including temporary housing, food, cash cards and special supply kits with thermometers, masks and pulse oximeters.

The initiative comes as Connecticut has seen a slight uptick in infections. Wednesday marked the second day in a row that the state's infection rate has been 1.8%, Lamont said. It's also the first time since late June that there have been more than 100 hospitalizations. In Norwich, local officials planned to hold a news conference on Thursday concerning the city's recent increase in cases, which grew to 5% this week. City Manager John Salomone told The Day of New London they plan to remind people the threat of COVID-19 is not over.

“We're not out of the woods yet,” Lamont said, noting Connecticut had a high of about 2,000 daily hospitalizations at the peak of the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, there have been 221 new COVID-19 cases since Tuesday in Connecticut. The number of hospitalizations grew by 12 to 104, while the number of COVID-associated deaths grew by three, for a total of 4,508.

The assistance program announced by the governor involves United Way's 2-1-1, the statewide COVID charitable organization 4-CT and five regional community based organizations that will match people up with services. The state is dedicating $220,000 to cover the cost of short-term hotel stays for those who can't safely isolate at home. Meanwhile, 4-CT has allocated $108,170 over the next five months to provide cash cards to help people pay for basic expenses if they need to miss work because they must quarantine and may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Under a new community resources coordinator program, regional organizations will work with contact tracing teams and match people who've tested positive with services. Also, people can call 2-1-1 to seek help if they need to quarantine.

“We're doing everything we can to make it easier for you to do the right thing,” said Lamont, who also extended a previously issued moratorium on residential evictions through Jan. 1, 2021. The governor said the state plans to soon unveil a financial assistance program to help struggling renters and small landlords.

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AIRPORT TESTING SERVICES

A COVID-19 testing site is being opened at Bradley International Airport, to help airline passengers avoid a 14-day quarantine when they arrive in Connecticut. Kevin Dillon, the executive director of the airport authority, said the testing will only be available to ticketed passengers as well as airport and airline employees.

Dillon said results from the test will be available within 24 hours. The test will cost $125 for anyone not covered by insurance.

Connecticut has joined New Jersey and New York in enforcing a quarantine requirement for visitors who come from locations with relatively high infection rates. As of Tuesday, there were 34 states and territories on that list.