The House and Senate appropriations committees both passed their FY 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bills this week, and the results were somewhat mixed for higher education.
On June 24, the full House Appropriations Committee approved the bill passed by the subcommittee last week. In advance of that vote, ACE and 13 other associations sent a letter offering support for their approach, despite concerns with some of the funding levels in the bill, particularly the reduction of surplus funds for Pell Grants.
The Senate subcommittee introduced their bill June 23 and passed it through full committee June 24. The Senate bill has a number of important differences from the House, and ACE sent a letter on behalf of 16 other associations expressing serious concerns with the Senate’s approach.
Among these concerns are cuts to critical campus-based aid programs like Federal Work-Study (FWS) and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), and level funding for TRIO and GEAR UP (FWS would be cut by $40 million, while FSEOG would lose $29 million). The bill does provide sufficient funding for the maximum Pell award to increase by $140, to $5,915, but also includes a rescission of $300 million from the Pell Grant surplus.
Other cuts include a $6 million reduction for the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grants and a $9 million cut for the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program. The bill also reduces the funding available to minority-serving institutions by roughly three percent across the board, and cuts key training programs authorized by the recently reauthorized Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
One of the few bright spots in the Senate bill is a $2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health, which would be the largest single-year funding increase for the agency in over a decade. The bill also includes language that would prohibit the Department of Education from further developing or implementing regulatory efforts already underway.
As was mentioned repeatedly at the committee markups in both chambers, there is little expectation that either of these bills will be enacted.
While the House is working to approve all 12 of their appropriations bills before the August recess (having passed six already), the Senate has not yet been able to pass a single bill on the floor. Senate Democrats have promised to filibuster any bills brought forward and have already blocked a vote on defense funding.
Similarly, the White House has repeatedly threatened to veto any bills that may pass Congress at current spending levels in an effort to force congressional Republicans to negotiate a larger spending package.