NAICU Washington Update

Bill to Reauthorize HEA Introduced in Senate

September 27, 2019

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, has introduced legislation to reauthorize elements of the Higher Education Act (HEA).
Due to the looming expiration of a vital bill to provide funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) on September 30, Congress has attempted to fast-track legislation to ensure that funding does not lapse in the coming weeks. Rather than allowing existing legislation that would provide a two-year funding extension to pass, Sen. Alexander has instead introduced the Student Aid Improvement Act of 2019, which offers a permanent funding extension to the HBCU and MSI funding stream. 
Sen. Alexander has publicly stated that he views the HBCU and MSI funding extension discussion as a means for the Senate to get the stalled HEA reauthorization negotiations back on track.
In addition to the funding provided for HBCUs and MSIs, Sen. Alexander’s bill also includes several additional policy proposals related to the reauthorization of HEA. In general, the Student Aid Improvement Act of 2019 includes:
  • A permanent extension of HBCU and MSI investment funding;
  • A more streamlined FAFSA;
  • The removal of the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students;
  • Access to Pell Grants for short-term job training programs, restricted to institutions that keep tuition and fee increases at or under inflation;
  • Increased requirements for financial literacy training for students; and
  • A $20 mandatory increase in the Pell Grant maximum, beyond what Congress funds in the annual budgeting process.
The proposals outlined above will be paid for by eliminating the current cap on monthly payments for certain borrowers enrolled in income-based repayment plans. Notably, Sen. Alexander dropped language that would have established a federal student unit record data system, as originally proposed, although the Senator indicated he may add the proposal to his package later.
Currently, Senate Democrats are not responding positively to Sen. Alexander’s proposal, and still seek a comprehensive reauthorization of HEA. It is rumored that House Democrats will be releasing their own version of HEA reauthorization legislation soon.