The Senate Appropriations Committee last week voted 29-2 to approve the FY 2018 spending bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies, which includes a $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award and substantial new funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Overall, the legislation would provide $68.3 billion for the Department of Education, a slight increase of $29 million over the current level for FY 2017, which ends on Sept. 30. In contrast, the House proposal would provide $66 billion for the agency, down $2.4 billion from the current budget. Both bills are more than the Trump administration requested: The president wanted a $9.2 billion cut in overall spending, down to $59 billion.
The Senate bill would increase the maximum Pell Grant award from $5,920 to $6,020. This increase is significant because a provision that annually increased Pell Grants by inflation expired last fiscal year, and without the increase provided in the Senate bill, the maximum award will stay flat for the first time in years. ACE joined 72 organizations in a letter Sept. 5 urging Senate appropriators to provide a discretionary increase for Pell Grants and to reject any further cuts to the program.
The Senate bill also includes small increases for other student aid programs, including $953 million for TRIO, a $3 million hike over current funding, and provides level funding for Federal Work-Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. On the research front, the bill would increase spending for NIH by $2 billion, an area ACE and the higher education community fully support.
With a three-month temporary spending bill now in place covering the first months of the upcoming fiscal year, Congress continues to move slowly ahead with plans to pass regular spending bills for FY 2018. Before the August recess, the House passed a measure tying together four of the 12 spending bills needed to fund all federal agencies, and this week passed a separate measure to fund the other eight.