What the White House’s Fiscal Year 2022 Delayed Budget Proposal Means for Higher Ed 

Related Topics in the Ref Desk: Pell Grant

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

President Joe Biden quickly worked with Congress to pass an additional coronavirus relief proposal — the American Rescue Plan Act — but his delayed federal budget proposal could make it difficult to wrap up fiscal year 2022 spending negotiations related to the Department of Education (ED) and higher education programs before the fall deadline.

Administrations typically release their budget proposals in late February or early March, and while congressional appropriators have historically ignored many presidential top-line funding numbers, the release kicks off the budgetary process that creates a baseline for the negotiating process.

While Biden formally unveiled his discretionary funding priorities on Friday — which included $102.8 billion for the Department of Education (ED), a $29.8 billion or 41% increase over the 2021 enacted level — the White House’s full budget proposal is not expected for a few weeks. Although not uncommon in the first appropriations cycle following a new administration assuming office, delayed release of the full budget request means the president’s program-level requests will not be known until later this spring.

Biden’s discretionary budget request includes an increase of $400 to the maximum Pell Grant award and also gives individuals enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, known as “Dreamers,” access to the program. “This should not be taken as the full sum total of the president’s higher education agenda,” said Michael Linden, a senior advisor to the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

"We're pleased to see a much-needed boost to the Pell Grant included in President Biden's budget priorities," said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. "Now more than ever, students and families are struggling to pay for college. Now is the time to make bold investments in federal student aid programs, and this is a step in the right direction. We urge Congress to build on this investment and double the maximum Pell Grant award as part of their efforts to maintain the foundation of federal student aid for college."

Throughout former President Donald Trump’s tenure, congressional leaders relied on a number of continuing resolutions — which keep the government funded for a specified time-frame at previously agreed upon funding levels — and succumbed to two government shutdowns during his term that forced agencies to carry out their duties with significant limits to their budgets.

While Trump’s final budget cycle got off to a significantly delayed start, Congress ultimately completed its work in a consolidated spending bill that created significant changes to federal student aid policy and provided additional pandemic relief.

In order to avert a potential shutdown, Biden and the current Congress will have to come to a spending agreement before the annual September 30 deadline, or provide a temporary funding extension through a continuing resolution. Those efforts may now begin in earnest due to the Senate’s recent confirmation of Shalanda Young as deputy director of OMB, a post that Biden’s team suggested is integral to “expediting” the release of a fiscal year 2022 budget.

“Our primary goal in releasing the discretionary request is to provide Congress with guidance it needs to begin the appropriations process, which presents a clear opportunity to make progress on very important priorities,” Young said Friday.

As the congressional budget cycle for fiscal year 2022 begins, NASFAA has joined a number of higher education organizations in calling for appropriators to double the maximum Pell Grant award to $13,000 and maintain or increase funding for a number of student aid programs.

Without statutory budget caps for fiscal year 2022, the groups ask that the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees overseeing education funding receive a generous allocation to address the needs across all the agencies in their jurisdiction, and that student aid funding remains a high priority in the bill.

“For the past decade due to overly restrictive budget caps, our country has significantly under-invested in core public services, benefits, and protections that are vital to our success and resilience, but those caps have now expired,” Young said. “The president believes — and I wholeheartedly agree — that now is the moment to begin reversing this trend and reinvesting in the foundations of our country's strength, and that's what this discretionary request does.”


Publication Date: 4/9/2021

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