NAICU Washington Update

Senate Appropriations Committee Reinstates Year-Round Pell

June 13, 2016

The year-round Pell Grant, which will help ensure low-income students can stay in school during the summer, was proposed to be reinstated when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2017 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill by a vote of 29-1 on June 9.

The subcommittee was able to craft the first bipartisan bill in seven years, and made student aid a priority by funding the scheduled increase in the Pell Grant maximum to $5,935, and level-funding all other student aid programs. However, the proposed allocation of $270 million is lower than last year’s amount.

While this process will not be completed until after the elections, this is a good start for student aid funding. The restoration of year-round Pell currently has broad bipartisan support, however, the unpredictable political climate, and the likelihood that the spending bill will not be finished until a post-election lame duck session, means a major provision such as this still has a long road ahead. Colleges that would like to utilize additional grants next summer, should the provision be approved, may want to start planning how they might offer summer classes to Pell students next year.

If the year-round Pell provision survives the process, students will be able to use up to one-and-a-half Pell Grants during an academic year to allow for a summer session. Estimates show this will keep one million students on campus, and on track towards completion, in the 2017-18 award year.

Year-round Pell was eliminated in FY 2011, when the participation and costs of the provision overran the estimates, and Congress was looking to cut spending. To pay for this provision and other spending across the bill, about $2.5 billion from Pell Grant surplus funds were used, and no cuts were made to student aid programs.

The two other areas highlighted by committee members during the markup were the $2 billion increase in National Institutions of Health (NIH) funding; and $261 million for treating the opioid abuse epidemic.

Appropriations Subcommittee member and Education Committee Chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said “this is the most important news for higher education this Congress,” referring to the reinstatement of year-round Pell. With his praise he also cautioned the committee to keep an eye on the program to ensure it can be maintained in response to fluctuations in use and costs.

Ranking Subcommittee Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and other democrats, praised the bipartisan nature of the bill, especially the lack of “poison pill policy riders” that would have been a barrier to passage. Senator James Lankford (R-OK), as the lone no-vote on the bipartisan bill, voiced three major concerns: that the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights gets an increase despite its “Dear Colleague Letters” that amount to agency overreach; that the bill does not address the Department of Labor Overtime Rules; and that the bill employs $5 billion in budget gimmicks that do not amount to real savings.

Next Steps

The House subcommittee is expected to write its bill before the July 4 recess. However, floor action in either chamber is unlikely unless an agreement to avoid “poison pill policy riders” is achieved in the House. Two bills have already had trouble garnering support on the House floor because of amendments related to transgender rights. We expect a continuing resolution to be enacted in September to keep the government running through the election; and a final spending bill that includes student aid in a post-election lame duck session in December

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