By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter
The House appropriations committee pushed forward on securing funding for labor, health and human services, and education programs, voting along party lines to move its fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding bill to the House for a vote, following a markup Wednesday. While the bill included increased funding for some Department of Education (ED) programs, such as TRIO, it was not focused on federal student aid programs.
The bill, released late last month, passed out of committee by a 30-22 vote, despite heavy opposition from Democratic members. Overall, it allocated $177.1 billion in funding to labor, health and human services, and education programs — the same amount that was included in the FY 2018 funding bill. While the bill did not include increases for federal student aid programs, it did propose a $43 million increase in funding for ED from last year to $71 billion, which was focused on programs related to special education, charter schools, and adult training and education. The bill also increased funding for the TRIO program by $50 million, and the GEAR UP program by $10 million, though proposed to keep the maximum Pell Grant award at 2018 levels.
While Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a chairman of the committee, said he hoped for a “swift” and “harmonious” markup, committee members spent hours offering and debating amendments related to the children of immigrants held at the U.S. border.
“After working to secure a bipartisan spending agreement that provided $18 billion in additional non-defense funds for fiscal year 2019, House Republicans have prioritized unnecessary funds for President Trump’s border wall, and cruel immigration policies, rather than adequately address the education of our children, the burden of college debt, the health of Americans, and the training of our workforce,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) said.
The manager’s amendment, which was introduced by Cole and included additional funds for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Capital Financing Program, was supported and passed by the committee. The amendment also clarified that colleges and universities can continue servicing Perkins Loans, which Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) called a “short-term, partial fix,” though institutions already have this authority.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) added an amendment that would insert the Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act into the bill. This language would allow federal student loan borrowers who are receiving cancer treatment to receive interest-free deferment on their federal loan payments while undergoing treatment for cancer and in the six months following treatment. The amendment was adopted by a voice vote, though Cole noted his desire to see more information on the cost of the provision before he would commit to advancing the measure in negotiations.
Cole also added an amendment to require that bonus compensation of Federal Student Aid (FSA) senior managers be based on customer service, contractor compliance with federal consumer protection laws, success in minimizing improper payments, collection rates, and overall current repayment status. NASFAA also examined FSA bonus compensation as part of a May 2017 report on improving oversight and transparency at FSA.
A handful of amendments Democrats proposed were rejected by the committee, including Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard’s (D-CA) amendment calling for a $135 increase for the maximum Pell Grant award to account for inflation. The Senate bill, however, included a $100 increase the maximum award.
McCollum offered an amendment to prohibit the recognition of the for-profit accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), which has recently come under scrutiny and is currently the subject of multiple legal battles. Cole, and the majority of committee, however, voted against the amendment to allow ED time to continue its investigation.
This bill will next move to the House for a full vote before being reconciled with the Senate's bill. The Senate appropriations committee late last month quickly passed its bipartisan bill out of committee, and it is awaiting a vote by the full Senate. While both the House and Senate appear to be working toward wrapping up spending bills before the start of the fiscal year beginning on October 1, gridlock has stunted the process in recent years and delayed action until the Spring. NASFAA sent a letter last month to the joint congressional committee involved in the budget process to emphasize the harmful effects that funding uncertainty for federal aid programs has on students.
Cole on Wednesday emphasized that he looks forward to working with the Senate on the bill. “I’m well aware that this [bill] will change as we mark it up and negotiate with the Senate and the administration in the weeks and months ahead. As we do I will work to be inclusive and accommodating,” Cole said. “It will be my aim to craft a final bill that members on both sides of the aisle can support, and that the president can sign with pride.”
Publication Date: 7/13/2018
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