In a return to “regular order,” House and Senate leaders agreed to funding levels for fiscal year (FY) 2019 (award year 2019-20) for defense, labor, health, and education programs on Thursday in a conference committee. The agreement includes a $100 increase to the maximum Pell Grant (to $6,195) and expanded FAFSA data-sharing language. The House and Senate are expected to pass the package in the coming days, which will be by the start of the fiscal year, October 1, marking the first on-time passage of education funding in over two decades.
“The Labor-HHS bill, which was determined through regular order, focuses limited resources on programs aimed at addressing some of the biggest challenges facing our nation,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, said. “[T]his measure supports students at every stage in their academic careers, whether it’s a child stepping into a classroom for the first time or a first generation college student pursuing a degree. Working together in a bipartisan way, we are on track, for the first time in 22 years, to get the Labor-HHS bill to the president’s desk by the end of the fiscal year.”
The maximum Pell Grant would increase in award year 2019-20 by $100 to $6,195. The increase is funded in part by a $600 million rescission from the program’s reserves, currently estimated at about $7.4 billion. The $600 million rescission is much lower than the $1.6 billion proposed cut in the Trump administration's original fiscal year 2019 budget proposal.
The agreement would level-fund the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work-Study (FWS) programs at $840 million and $1.1 billion, respectively, and provide an additional $350 million to the Temporary Expansion Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) initiative for borrowers who were enrolled in ineligible repayment plans.
The bill would reaffirm and expand language in the FY 2018 spending bill that provided a legislative "fix," advocated for by NASFAA, to address a FAFSA data-sharing issue that has plagued students, financial aid administrators, scholarship providers, and other entities for over a year. The language adopted in March applied only to scholarship providers and tribal organizations. The new expanded language is much broader, and would allow an institution to share FAFSA data — with the student's written consent — with an organization "assisting the applicant in applying for and receiving Federal, State, local, or tribal assistance that is designated by the applicant to assist the applicant in applying for and receiving financial assistance for any component of the applicant's cost of attendance." It is unclear at this time how broadly the Department of Education (ED) will interpret "assistance." This expanded language addressing other organizations appeared in the Senate’s 2019 funding bill, but not in the House bill. NASFAA urged House leaders to support the Senate language in negotiations on a final bill in a letter sent in July.
The bill also includes the Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act. This language would allow federal student loan borrowers, including Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), Perkins, and Direct 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.
Language in the bill would allow ED to use funds out of the Student Aid Administration account to support Perkins Loan servicing at institutions servicing outstanding Perkins Loans; however, the language would not require ED to do so. Additionally, the bill includes language for the second year in a row requiring ED to include multiple servicers in its “NextGen Financial Services Environment” and to evaluate loan servicers and allocate new accounts based on performance.
“[T]he legislation funds critical programs that will protect and save lives both now and in the future,” House Appropriations chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) said. “This includes investments in vital National Institutes of Health research to cure diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, job training, college preparation, special education programs, programs to combat opioid abuse, school safety, and protections against pandemics and bio-threats.”
This bill is expected to pass both chambers and be signed into law by President Trump by the start of the fiscal year on October 1. This is significant progress compared to prior years where funding has been finalized months after the September 30 deadline. NASFAA sent a letter in June to outline the effect of these delays on student aid funding uncertainty at institutions, particularly in the context of "Early FAFSA." NASFAA will encourage ED to release award year 2019-20 Pell Grant payment and disbursement schedules as soon as possible following enactment of the legislation.
“We are making real progress here. If we continue on this path, I am confident we will get this package to the President’s desk by October 1,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said in a statement.
Publication Date: 9/17/2018