NAICU Washington Update

Trump signs Pell Grant Increase and Avoids Government Shutdown

October 01, 2018

After months of drama and tension between congressional leadership and President Trump over the annual government spending bills, the president signed H. R. 6157 into law, thus avoiding a government shutdown.  The bill includes significant funding for student aid programs, including a $100 increase in the Pell Grant.
As the clock was ticking down to the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, Congress finalized a combined Defense-Labor-HHS-Education-Continuing Resolution spending bill, with bipartisan bicameral support, which the President Trump signed on September 28.
As part of the package, the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which funds the student aid programs, increases the Pell Grant maximum by $100, to $6,195; maintains funding for SEOG at $840 million (increased just last year) and Federal Work Study at $1.13 billion; and increases TRIO to $1.06 billion and GEAR UP to $360 million. The funding increases are good news for students who will have access to additional grant aid for the 2019-2020 school year. It also marks the reemergence of student aid funding as a bipartisan issue. The Senate passed the combined conference report September 18 on a vote of 93-7; the House passed the bill September 26 by a vote of 361-61.
Congressional leaders dove into the FY 2019 appropriations process early this summer with the goal of getting spending bills back on track to the “regular order” of enacting them before the beginning of the fiscal year, which is October 1. As they wrote and passed bills, President Trump continuously demanded funding for the southern border wall as a top priority, and issued statements just short of veto threats that the appropriations bills were spending too much, even though they were within the budget caps agreed to in February.
To get most of the government funded before September 30, the House and Senate bipartisan leadership agreed to create three "minibus" bills carrying multiple agency funding.  They decided to pair the Defense spending bill with the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (the largest domestic spending bill) to gain sufficient votes for passage, and avoid a classic fight over funding “guns v. butter.” In conference discussions, appropriators decided to add a continuing resolution (CR) to the Defense-Labor-HHS-Education bill to keep the government open until December 7, making it difficult to oppose.
One of the other two bills, carrying the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction-VA bills was signed into law on September 21.  The third bill, with Agriculture, Financial Services, Interior, and Transportation-HUD is still in conference.  Both of these are generally noncontroversial.
With passage of the Defense package and the Energy package, the CR covers the Agriculture package, and the remaining three unconsidered bills: Homeland Security; State-Foreign Operations; and Commerce-Justice-Science.  This keeps the government open, and effectively puts off negotiations on border wall funding until after the November election.
This marks the first time since 1996 that the education funding bill has passed Congress before the beginning of the fiscal year.  Its inclusion in the larger “minibus” package was part of the congressional leadership’s strategy to enact as many appropriations bills as possible before September 30, avoid a pre-election government shutdown, and delay a fight over funding the border wall. 

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