The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a bipartisan FY 2018 Labor, HHS and Education (LHHS) appropriations bill that contains some good news for community colleges and their students, as described below. The committee was not able to employ the same budget-enhancing tactics as last year and provides $800 million less overall for discretionary programs. Nevertheless, the bill rejects the drastic spending cuts proposed by the Trump administration in its FY 2018 budget.
Most lawmakers assume that a deal to increase overall appropriations will be reached later this fall, possibly resulting in a larger allocation for the LHHS and other subcommittees. However, this outcome is not certain. AACC continues to urge its members to press Congress to raise the overall cap on non-defense discretionary programs. Until the overall appropriations “pie” is enlarged, tough trade-offs will continue to have to be made.
Department of Education
The Senate bill provides $68.3 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED), $29 million above last year. The bill’s highlight for AACC members is a $100 increase to the Pell Grant maximum for next award year, to $6,020. The companion House bill froze the maximum grant. The maximum grant increase comes partially as a result of a $2.6 billion rescission to the current Pell Grant surplus. The House version of the bill cut $3.3 billion from the surplus. LHHS Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), in comments before subcommittee markup of the bill, indicated that reducing or eliminating this rescission would be a top priority should more resources be made available through a budget agreement.
The bill also would restore the Pell Grant eligibility period for students defrauded by institutions of higher education and directs the ED secretary to take additional actions to provide relief from fraudulently issued student loans.
Funding for many important ED programs was maintained at the FY 17 level, including Perkins Career and Technical Education State Grants ($1.1 billion), Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants ($733 million), Federal Work-Study ($990 million) and GEAR UP ($340 million). All of these had been slated for reduction or elimination in the President’s budget. Adult education, the HEA Title III and V programs, and Child Care Access Means Parents in School are also reportedly level-funded.
Some programs received small increases, including an additional $3 million (to $953 million) for the TRIO program.
Department of Labor
Critically, the committee rejected the 40% cut to Department of Labor (DOL) workforce training programs proposed by the president, and provides $2.7 billion for the formula grants (dislocated workers, adults, and youth) authorized by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The House bill had made deep cuts to these programs. The Senate bill also creates a new, $30 million program to train workers in the Appalachian and Delta regions.
The Senate legislation provides $95 million for apprenticeship grants, which the House bill eliminated. The bill directs DOL to focus on broadening apprenticeships to new businesses and engage in efforts to increase the participation of underrepresented populations, particularly women. The committee has also charged DOL to work with the Delta Regional Authority to expand apprenticeship in rural areas.
The route to enactment of this legislation remains uncertain. Congress has tentatively agreed to provide or sustain current funding levels through December 8 of this year, via a continuing resolution.