NAICU Washington Update

Senate Appropriators Cut Student Aid

July 06, 2015

While agreeing to increase the Pell Grant maximum award to $5,915, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed to cut Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) by $29 million and Federal Work Study (FWS) by $40 million in advancing the proposed FY 2016 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill on June 25, 2015.

The Senate committee took a different approach than the House Appropriations Committee, by spreading cuts across all programs, rather than increasing some programs and eliminating many other education programs Like the House bill, the Senate bill includes language blocking the implementation of the Education Department’s regulations on state authorization, definition of credit hour, gainful employment, teacher preparation, and the college ratings system, until Congress has the opportunity to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Despite the inclusion of the prohibition on regulations, NAICU and other higher education associations oppose the Senate bill because of the cuts to student aid. The $140 increase in the Pell Grant maximum will not make up for the almost 200,000 students who will lose up to $4,000 in their SEOG grant, or the roughly 68,000 students who will lose an average of $1,673 in work contributions to pay for college.

The skewed distribution of funds in the Senate bill is evident in a $2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), level funding for the TRIO and GEAR UP programs, but cuts in graduate education (by $9 million to $20 million) and to International Education programs (by $25 million to $47 million).

For additional background, the committee majority released this summary, while the committee minority released this summary.

Next Steps

The Senate has written seven of 12 appropriations bills in committee, but has not passed any on the floor. Democrats filibustered consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill earlier in the month, and have threatened to block all bills as they come to the floor because spending is too low. Thus, the education spending bill will most likely not see further Senate action.

The House has passed six of the 12 spending bills, and written the other six. The House plans to bring all bills to the floor for a vote. The education spending bill is tentatively scheduled to be on the floor the week of July 20, and is expected to pass.

With this divergent approach to the funding process, the two chambers and the two parties will need to figure out how to come to an agreement on FY 2016 spending by September 30, or face a government shutdown.

The spending caps set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 are now forcing spending cuts deeper than sequestration in 2013. Republican messaging on the spending bills is focused on working within the tight parameters each committee was given, and they are doing the best they can.

In the House, both Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Full Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said they were sympathetic to amendments to increase education programs if there was more money allocated later in the process. In the Senate, Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) said his bill forced difficult choices among important programs. Democrats in both chambers are voting against the spending bills, and calling for a negotiation on a budget deal to start now.

If a budget deal is crafted this fall, it will most likely wrap together final appropriations, an increase in the debt ceiling, and a new approach to sequestration and deficit reduction.

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