NAICU Washington Update

Congress Adjourns; Lame Duck Session Addresses Several Areas of Importance

December 17, 2014

The 114th Congress adjourned sine die on Tuesday, December 16 after what’s being called the least productive session in modern history. However, two big actions in the lame duck session kept NAICU priorities intact. Congress approved a one-year extension of expired tax benefits which included one-year retroactive extensions of the IRA Charitable Rollover and the above-the-line Tuition Deduction (see accompanying Washington Update story). Additionally, President Obama signed the “CRomnibus” spending package that covered several areas of interest to NAICU members.

Student Aid Funding Set for 2015-16 Academic Year

Congress sent the $1 trillion FY 2015 Omnibus Spending bill, H.R. 83, to the President for his signature on December 13. This “CRomnibus” spending package is so-named because includes 11 complete bills (omnibus), funding all agencies except Homeland Security, which is funded through February 27, 2015 by a continuing resolution (CR). This deal allows Congress and the Administration more time to work on immigration issues, without shutting down the rest of the government.

After nail-biting whip counts, the House passed the package by a vote of 219-to-206, with 57 Democrats voting for passage. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 56 to 40, after a filibuster and a constitutional point of order against the bill. Both chambers passed a two-day continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown. The President signed the bill upon receipt.

For student aid, program funding has held steady, with a few increases:

  • Funding for Pell grants is sufficient to cover the scheduled increase in the maximum grant to $5,830.
  • SEOG is level funded at $733 million
  • Federal Work Study has a $15 million increase, to $990 million
  • TRIO is increased by $1.5 million, to $840 million
  • GEAR UP is level funded at $302 million
  • Graduate programs are level funded at $29 million
  • First in the World is cut $15 million, to $60 million

In addition to these funding levels, the bill includes legislative language for a new provision that reinstates student aid eligibility, under “ability-to-benefit,” for students enrolled in career pathways programs, most of which are at community colleges. This is modeled on a successful program in Washington State, championed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

As with most end-of-the-session bills, the report language accompanying the bill can reinforce policy positions of the appropriations committees. There are quite a few areas of interest to NAICU members covered in this year’s report language:

  • The Department of Education must report to the appropriations committees on enrollment and graduation information for Pell Grant recipients in the NSLDS, which began in the 2012-13 award year.
  • Within the amount for Student Aid Administration, the Department is expected to continue its efforts to prevent sexual violence on campus.
  • The committees request an update on the interagency task force on oversight of for-profit colleges in the FY 2016 budget justification for the Department.
  • The committees request an update on the implementation of the expanded student complaint system in the FY 2016 budget justification.
  • Within FIPSE, $2.5 million is provided for the National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities (aka database).
  • Within FIPSE, $5 million for the Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success and $250,000 for a database contract.
  • The committees encourage the Department to continue incentivizing institutions to develop and test competency-based education as an alternative method for delivering financial aid.
  • A $1.4 million increase for the Office of Civil Rights to help ensure educational institutions are protecting students from sexual violence

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