NAICU Washington Update

From Rescue to Recovery

March 12, 2021

As President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan, the nation is marking the one year anniversary of pandemic-disrupted life, and is now eager to move towards “normalcy.”  After a year of providing emergency response for the national COVID-19 emergency, the next steps the Administration and Congress will take to achieve that goal will be action in support of recovery efforts. 

Enactment of the American Rescue Plan brings total emergency funding for higher education to $76.55 billion, when added to the CARES Act and CRRSAA funding passed last year. This support has been critical to keeping institutions open and students engaged in their higher education pursuits, despite unprecedented circumstances for students, families, and campuses. 

While private, nonprofit colleges were not included in the first draft of the Administration’s American Rescue Plan, Congress included the sector on equal footing with public colleges.  Though this last piece of emergency legislation passed with only Democratic votes, and the arguments against it were more partisan than in the previous two bills, funding for higher education and the treatment of private, nonprofit colleges was never a contentious part of the debate. 

President Biden has outlined a forthcoming American Recovery Plan as the next step for the government to address the pandemic. The major pieces of this plan focus on strengthening infrastructure and ensuring the economy remains strong.

The pivot from rescue to recovery will be seen in education proposals as well. The President’s budget, which is expected to be released in full by May, is likely to propose significant investments in education, including higher education. The Biden presidential campaign highlighted several key higher education priorities, including doubling the Pell Grant, creating a federal-state partnership for free community college and free public college for those earning less than $125,000, and providing debt relief to students. It is anticipated, though not certain, that all three could be included in the president’s budget. 

When Congress considers recovery and budget proposals, future legislation is likely to take longer and face more political obstacles than the successful action seen on the CARES and CCRSSA Acts and the American Rescue Plan. Congress will want to write its own budget resolution to guide spending and tax policy. It will also want to hold hearings with agency officials to vet the details of recovery and budget plans and determine which proposals best fit the authorizing, appropriations or budget processes, possibly including using a second reconciliation bill as the vehicle for some or all of the next steps.

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