Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Maryland may lose more than $4 million in federal funding if Congress does not reauthorize mandatory spending for those institutions beyond the current academic year.

Maryland’s HBCUs “face a funding cliff due to congressional inaction,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

The FUTURE Act, renewing more than $255 million for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, was passed unanimously by the House on Sept. 17, but has stalled in the Senate. Funding is guaranteed only through the 2019-2020 academic year after the Senate failed to meet the Sept. 30 deadline.

“Continued support is imperative,” said the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in a statement provided to Capital News Service.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has blocked the measure, instead backing a Higher Education Act reauthorization bill that would include long-term funding for HBCUs.

Cardin said support for minority-serving institutions should not be in the balance while Congress tries to work out a broader reform package. The reauthorization of the 1965 Higher Education Act has failed to pass for several years.

The FUTURE Act “gives breathing room to continue to negotiate the full reauthorization of the Higher Education Act without holding these historically underfunded institutions as hostage,” Cardin said.

Victor Santos, vice president for government relations at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an HBCU advocacy organization, said institutions cannot afford to wait for a comprehensive Higher Education Act that is unlikely to be passed in the foreseeable future.

“Realistically [the money] needs to be picked up before the end of this year, in order to make sure that our schools don’t have to make some really hard decisions,” the fund said in a statement.

A section of the Higher Education Act provides money for things like renovations, advising, lab and library materials, and other academic services with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math fields. The FUTURE Act would have authorized funding for an additional two years.

“Discontinuation of funds will have a negative impact on (HBCUs’) mission and goals. HBCUs’ academic programs, student services, global and international efforts will be affected,” UMES said.

This year, UMES is receiving $899,760, Coppin State University is receiving $894,657, Bowie State University $1.18 million and Morgan State University $1.35 million.

Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen urged his colleagues on the Senate floor Oct. 24 to unanimously pass the funding in order to provide HBCUs with more certainty on their budgets.

These institutions “have to plan now for what’s going to happen next year. And they can’t budget and they can’t plan on hope,” Van Hollen said. “There is really no time to waste.”

Some HBCUs around the country have already projected budget cuts and notified employees their positions are in jeopardy, according to Thurgood Marshall College Fund President Harry Williams.

“These are real jobs, held by people who interact with students everyday, in programs that play a critical role in graduating and retaining students in the STEM fields, among other disciplines,” Williams wrote in a letter to the Senate on Oct. 14.

“The longer we wait to give certainty to these universities, the more institutions will be left with no choice but to begin winding-down programs that materially benefit students and employees alike, and strip away the institutional knowledge bases that our schools have built over time,” he said.

Alexander, following Van Hollen’s comments on the Senate floor, reiterated the importance of passing his comprehensive bill, which in addition to long-term HBCU funding would simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, extend Pell Grants to incarcerated students and allow Pell Grants to be used for short-term programs. Democrats say the measure doesn’t go far enough.

“With all respect, this is no way to help historically black colleges or minority-serving institutions,” Alexander said, adding that the FUTURE Act is a short-term “budget gimmick.”

Van Hollen responded by saying the Senate should look to those institutions themselves to determine whether the funding is needed.

“I would just say to the chairman of the committee that I believe the best judge for what’s good for HBCUs are HBCUs,” he said. “While we would all like to work toward comprehensive reform and reauthorization on higher education, there’s no need to wait on this provision."