NAICU Washington Update

Senate-Passed Budget Bill Includes $100 Increase in Pell Grant Max

August 24, 2018

Continuing its trajectory towards finalizing the FY 2019 spending bills before the beginning of the federal fiscal year on October 1, the Senate just passed a combined Defense-Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill (H. R. 6157) by a vote of 85 to 7. A key component of the bill is a $100 increase to the Pell Grant maximum, raising it to $6,195.

The Pell Grant increase did not come easy.  Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) specifically made a priority of increasing the grant with discretionary funds (not budget gimmicks) in his bipartisan subcommittee bill, written with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA).  During floor debate on the final bill, however, Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) raised a budget point of order objecting to how Pell Grant funding is accounted for in the bill.  Sen. Enzi offered a budget discipline amendment that ultimately would have stripped the $100 increase in the Pell Grant from the bill, and made future increases or expansions to the program more expensive.  A motion to waive Sen. Enzi’s point of order passed 68 to 24, so the Pell increase remains intact in the Senate bill, which also includes an increase for the National Institutes of Health.

Additionally, funding for servicing the wind down of the Perkins Loan Program, allowing Student Aid Administration funds to be used to help colleges and universities close out the program, is included in the final bill.  Unfortunately, the bill does not include additional funds to pay for loan cancellations owed to colleges from the Department of Education from forgiveness programs. Congress has not funded the cancellations of Perkins Loans in more than a decade.

The other student aid programs were level funded, as in the subcommittee bill.

Senate leadership intentionally combined the Defense and Labor-HHS-Education bills to encourage bipartisan passage of the two largest spending bills, and avoid confrontation over disparities between funding the military versus funding domestic programs.  The bills were also written without partisan policy riders, unlike in the House, with the ultimate goal of getting the spending bills passed before October 1, and avoiding a pre-election government shutdown.   

The Senate only took one week of its traditional August recess to pass spending bills.  The next steps towards completion will be determined when the House reconvenes after Labor Day.

MORE News from NAICU