By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
As Republicans prepare to unveil their latest pandemic aid proposal in the coming days, top Democrats are touting their own proposals and calling on the GOP-controlled Senate to take up the legislation, all while the White House hopes to trim the total price tag of any package and include priorities of President Donald Trump.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Senate education committee, in a conference call Tuesday urged Senate Republicans to vote on Murray’s Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA), which would allocate $132 billion for higher education to help colleges and universities adversely impacted by the coronavirus.
“Democrats have been calling on Republicans to come to the table to work with us on a bipartisan bill that will address the crisis,” Schumer said, also highlighting the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which passed the House in May but has yet to be formally taken up in the Senate. “Next month ... students are starting a new school year. The challenges facing teachers, staff, parents, child care facilities, not to mention students themselves, are enormous and require significant federal resources.”
With negotiations on the next federal relief package beginning in earnest this week, Republicans are expected to release their proposal soon, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the GOP’s coronavirus relief package will include $105 billion for education "so that educators have the resources they need to safely reopen,” though details on exact funding for higher education and the conditions on which they hinge have not been confirmed.
"This country wants its kids back in the classroom this fall learning, exploring, making friends. Their education depends on it,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, referring to K-12 education.
Schumer in the call Tuesday alluded to various reports that McConnell and President Trump will try to tie funding for schools in the next package to reopening for in-person learning, but declined to comment directly until he has seen what is included.
“The devil is in the details — let's see what's in the proposal,” Schumer said.
While Murray didn’t prognosticate on what could be included in the proposal, she did make clear that Democrats wouldn’t negotiate with Republicans if it involved forcing students to return for in-person instruction.
“Conditioning funds on physically opening is a non-starter for Democrats,” she said.
While the the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act earmarked roughly $14 billion for higher education, the Democrats’ HEROES Act calls for directing more than $37 billion to higher education institutions, and various reports put the GOP’s yet-to-be-released plan in the $30 billion range.
Additionally, the HEROES Act would retroactively prevent the Department of Education (ED) from imposing student eligibility restrictions on emergency relief grants allocated in the CARES Act.
Murray’s CCERA proposal calls for the largest investment in higher education of all the packages, with 90% of the $132 billion going directly to public and private non-profit institutions, which must still use at least 50% of funds to provide emergency financial aid grants to students. The bill clarifies that emergency financial aid grants awarded to students could be used for any part of a student's cost of attendance, and removes the CARES Act requirement that grants could only be awarded to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to the pandemic.
As for the timing of when the next coronavirus relief package could pass, both White House officials and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have said they hope to reach an agreement by the end of next week, according to The Washington Post.
On Tuesday Pelosi and Schumer met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in an attempt to hammer out details for the first time. However, McConnell reportedly laughed at the prospect of a coronavirus bill passing by the end of next week.
With school set to begin for many as early as next month and lawmakers present in Washington for only a few weeks until a planned August recess, meaning they wouldn’t return until after Labor Day, time is in short supply for Congress to get a package completed. Additionally, the expanded unemployment benefits included in the last package are set to expire at the end of the month, giving lawmakers a tight deadline.
Publication Date: 7/22/2020