Biden Signs Major Spending Bill That Includes $400 Increase for Pell Grants
March 15, 2022

President Biden has signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill that funds the government through the end of September, a package that includes all 12 annual appropriations bills for FY 2022 along with $13.6 billion in support for Ukraine and refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. The bill provides $3 billion for higher education, which would fund increases for most Title IV programs at the Department of Education.

The maximum Pell Grant will receive a $400 boost under the bill, bringing it to $6,895. While this is the largest increase in years, it still falls far short of doubling the grant, which President Biden campaigned on in 2020. The higher education community remains committed to doubling the Pell Grant, which turns 50 this year and is overdue to be revamped for today’s students. Federal Work-Study, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, TRIO, and GEAR UP are among the other programs that would receive modest increases over FY 2021. 

The bill would provide $885 million to assist historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities, and other primarily minority serving institutions (MSIs), an increase of $96 million over FY 2021. Notably, it also would allow HBCUs and MSIs more flexibility with how they spend COVID-19 relief aid, including “for the acquisition of real property or construction directly related to preventing, preparing for and responding to coronavirus.”

On the research side, the overall budget of the National Science Foundation would be set at $8.84 billion, $351 million over FY 2021 level, while the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would increase to $7.48 billion and NASA’s science program would rise to $7.61 billion. The National Institutes of Health would receive $45 billion, a $2 billion increase over FY 2021, including $1 billion for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health. 

As The Chronicle of Higher Education points out, unlike other spending bills passed over the last decade, this measure sees the return of earmarks, now known as “community-project funding,” in the House of Representatives and “congressionally directed spending” in the Senate. The bill includes $1.5 billion for thousands of earmarks, more than 200 for higher education projects. 

Two other provisions of note. The House included a bipartisan resolution (H. Con. Res. 70) condemning the recent bomb threats at HBCUs, which we called for in a letter last month. The Senate passed a similar resolution last week. Politico reported earlier this week that, for now, it is unclear whether HBCUs will be able to use the new spending flexibility to improve their public safety. 

The House bill also reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The VAWA provisions include a mandate for higher education institutions to conduct a standardized campus climate survey every two years, developed by the Secretary of Education. The higher education association community supports VAWA’s reauthorization but will be working toward improving the mandate to give colleges and universities more flexibility.  

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