The Senate appropriations committee released its fiscal year (FY) 2020 funding bill Wednesday for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H). The bill — which Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) hinted could bypass a committee vote and make it to the Senate floor for a vote as early as this week — includes an increase to the maximum Pell Grant award and level funding for federal student financial aid programs.
Overall, according to a press release, the bill provides $71.4 billion in discretionary funding to the Department of Education (ED) — which is less than what the House proposed ($75.9 billion) but slightly more than what President Donald Trump allocated for ED ($64 billion). Although Shelby indicated in August that the Labor-H bill would be one of the first spending bills to be marked up, a subcommittee markup scheduled for last week was cancelled due to disagreements over the bill’s overall funding level, funding for Trump’s border wall, and an abortion-related amendment suggested by Democrats.
While the House has already marked up all of its appropriations bills for FY 2020 and passed 10 on the floor, lawmakers in the lower chamber will, however, need to account for the differences between the spending levels in their bills and those passed in Trump’s two-year, $2.7 trillion budget deal — which was signed after they marked up their bills. Specifically, House appropriators must adjust for $5 billion more in defense spending and roughly $15 billion less in non-defense spending.
While the House proposed to increase the maximum Pell Grant award to $6,345, the Senate bill includes a $135 increase to the award — raising it from $6,195 to $6,330, or by 2.2%. At the same time, the Senate bill also cuts $1.3 billion from the Pell Grant reserve fund to pay for non-education related programs.
The Senate bill also overall proposed to fund education programs at lower levels than the House did. Specifically, the Senate included level funding for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program at $840 million, Federal-Work Study (FWS) at $1.1 billion, and TRIO programs at $1.06 billion. The bill also included an additional $1 million to aid borrowers who were otherwise eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) yet were enrolled in an ineligible repayment plan.
“This bill funds a wide range of programs that have one thing in common: improving the quality of life for every American,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “... This bill reflects numerous priorities that have had broad support on both sides of the aisle and I'll continue working with our entire appropriations committee to move it forward.”
As the start of FY 2020 is quickly approaching, and the deadline for the spending bills to be marked up, negotiated, and signed into law grows closer, leaders in both chambers are considering their options for stopgap legislation that extends current funding levels and maintains government operations while the remaining bills are finalized. The House released its continuing resolution to fund the government through mid-November yesterday.
For more information on the federal budget and appropriations process, check out NASFAA's Federal Budget and Appropriations page, which features recent news and a flowchart explaining the budget process.
Publication Date: 9/19/2019