President Joe Biden on Friday formally unveiled the remainder of his spending priorities for the fiscal year 2022 budget, impacting award year 2022-23. The now fully fleshed out proposal enables congressional appropriators to begin their work in earnest and will likely spur a summer of legislative activity as the federal government sprints to meet its annual spending deadline at the end of September.
The administration released its initial discretionary budget proposal in early April, which included $102.8 billion for the Department of Education (ED), a $29.8 billion or 41% increase over the 2021 enacted level — the largest proposed increase to the department in history. Although a late spring release of the full budget proposal (rather than the customary early February) is typical during a new administration's first appropriations cycle after assuming office, the delay in the Biden administration's full budget was also due to the drafting and enactment of American Rescue Plan Act.
"Families have been struggling to afford college even before the pandemic ravaged our nation's economy. President Biden's historic investments in foundational programs like the Pell Grant will be a lifeline to millions of middle and lower income Americans," said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. "Our attention now turns to Congress to not only enact these investments, but to also boost campus-based aid programs like Federal Work-Study and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants to ensure no qualified student is denied access to a postsecondary degree."
“The budget complements these historic plans with additional proposals to reinvest in the foundations of our nation’s strength — expanding economic opportunity, improving education, tackling the climate crisis, and ensuring a strong national defense while restoring America’s place in the world,” Biden said in submitting his budget to Congress.
Of note, the budget request includes an increase of $400 to the maximum Pell Grant award, which together with the proposed $1,475 increase from the American Families Plan (AFP) released in April would bring the maximum award to $8,370. It would also give individuals enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, known as “Dreamers,” access to the program.
Biden's budget proposal also requests an increase of $3 billion to Pell Grant discretionary funding, and does not include a rescission of the program's reserve funds. In recent years, discretionary funding for the program has remained flat, while annual increases to the maximum award have largely been financed by cuts to the reserve fund.
According to Biden’s budget, the total increase to the Pell Grant represents a “significant first step” to deliver on the president’s goal to double the grant.
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.
For campus-based aid, the budget request maintains funding levels from fiscal year 2021 for the Federal Work-Study and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) programs at $1.19 billion and $880 million respectively.
“We need to focus on not only recovering from the pandemic but also look towards our students’ education after the pandemic to ensure there are improved resources to build our education system back better than before,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “This budget ensures all students have access to high-quality, affordable postsecondary education, while also improving career pathways for students of all ages and levels.”
Congressional appropriators have historically ignored many presidential top-line funding numbers, but the release kicks off the budgetary process that creates a baseline for negotiations.
Democrats largely praised the administration’s investments.
“I look forward to continuing to fight for critical investments in our workers, students, families and communities by making child care affordable for every family who needs it, passing a comprehensive national paid leave policy for all workers, lowering health care costs, and making community college free — because helping our families and kids succeed is an investment in our present and our future,” said Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.) chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee.
Congressional Democrats also praised the administration’s efforts to address inequality within the education system.
“The budget makes a strong commitment to addressing inequity at all levels of education – from child care and preschool to higher education,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. “Notably, the Biden-Harris Administration is proposing a historic increase in Pell Grants that would help more students get a quality degree.”
Republicans largely panned the proposal and considered the spending levels a non-starter for budget talks.
“The spending and policy atrocities passed this year by Democrats in Congress pale in comparison to President Biden’s newly released budget,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), ranking member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. “Not surprisingly, an all too familiar theme persists under this administration: Gross negligence in delivering on the priorities of the American people.”
Last year, House leaders unveiled their spending plan shortly after the Fourth of July and had to rely on a continuing resolution, ultimately not finalizing the budget until the end of the calendar year which included simplifying the FAFSA, expanding Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students, and the repeal of limitations on subsidized loan eligibility for undergraduate Direct Loans.
This session, congressional leaders have already begun budgetary discussions centering on the needs of higher education. The House Appropriations Committee has honed in on funding for community colleges and received testimony from Cardona, who highlighted the administration's higher education funding agenda.
Noticeably absent from Biden’s budget request is funding to address student debt or free community college, which is contained in the American Families Plan. The proposal instead stressed provisions that would aim to reduce tuition and fees for certain eligible students. During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to forgive up to $10,000 in federally-held student loan debt and has tasked ED with drafting a memo to explore what authority his administration has when it comes to dealing with those funds.
The current federal moriturum on student loans is slated to expire on September 30, but could be further extended depending on how the administration decides to tackle the payment resumption. While the benefit has been extended through a mix of congressional approval and executive authority, the annual appropriations cycle — which also has a September 30 deadline — could allow Congress to weigh in on the issue.
However, the administration did say that it looked forward to working with the Congress on changes to the Higher Education Act that “ease the burden of student debt,” specifically citing the income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs.
While the presidential budget serves as the administration’s wishlist, it is also a guide as to how major pieces of key legislation are shaped. As work begins in earnest on Biden’s infrastructure package, be on the lookout for key budgetary provisions to find their way into those drafted proposals. Should Democrats elect to use a budgetary tool — budget reconciliation — they used to enact the American Rescue Plan, they could enact a number of specific policies with a simple majority, making the infrastructure package a more salient tool to enacting Biden’s agenda.
Stay tuned to Today’s News for more details on the budget and check out our coverage of the appropriations process.
Publication Date: 5/28/2021