While the government is currently operating under a continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown through December 3, the Senate has released draft text of its annual spending plan that contains $98.4 billion in base discretionary funding for the Department of Education (ED).
While that topline number marks an increase of $24.9 billion above the fiscal year 2021 enacted level, the Senate proposal comes in $4.4 billion less than President Joe Biden’s initial budget request.
The Senate, which is far behind the House in kicking off the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations process, is not expected to formally mark up the measure, and will instead use these spending levels as a starting point for negotiating between the chambers.
“I believe strongly that now more than ever, our focus needs to be on ensuring our country can come back better from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) chair of the Labor-H subcommittee, and chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “I’m proud that this bill dramatically increases funding for our public schools and Pell Grants to put higher education within reach for more students, and that it would strengthen our public health infrastructure so that we are better prepared for the next pandemic as well as ongoing public health crises like substance use disorders and mental health.”
According to the Senate Appropriations committee, its package of annual spending bills would provide for a 13% increase for non-defense discretionary programs and a 5% increase for defense programs.
Specifically, the Senate’s text would include a $400 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award, which would boost the 2022-23 maximum award to $6,895. This level of funding is the same as the increase in discretionary funding included in both Biden’s discretionary budget request and the House bill.
The proposal includes a $1.8 billion increase in discretionary funding for the Pell grant program, which would be the program's first increase in annual discretionary funding since FY 2011. In an explanatory statement accompanying the bill, the committee noted "While significant unobligated balances remain available, this puts the program on sounder footing for future years, including supporting recent program expansions that will be implemented in coming years and the increase in the maximum award provided in this bill."
The bill also proposes just over $2 billion for Student Aid Administration, which includes funding "necessary to implement the FAFSA Simplification Act and FUTURE Act no later than July 1, 2024." The measure would also allocate an additional $50 million for the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program.
The bill would also include:
— $1.3 billion for TRIO, an increase of $186 million over the fiscal year 2021 level, which will support an increase for each TRIO program, including funding down the slate of high-quality applications from previous competitions.
— $1.1 billion for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), an increase of $295 million over fiscal year 2021.
— $905 million for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, $25 million more than the fiscal year 2021 level and Biden’s budget request; and $1.23 billion for the Federal Work-Study program, $40 million more than the fiscal year 2021 level and Biden’s budget request.
In the accompanying explanatory statement, the Committee also applauded a number of recent actions by ED, including its overhaul of the PSLF program and announcement of plans to establish an Office of Enforcement within FSA. The Committee also encouraged the Department to automatically rehabilitate the loans of federal student loan borrowers who entered default status on or before March 2020 and were eligible to have such loans rehabilitated, without requiring an application for such rehabilitation and to remove associated negative credit reporting.
Congressional leadership will need to develop a spending plan, be it another short-term continuing resolution or some combination of finalized appropriations packages before the impending December 3 deadline.
Stay tuned to Today’s News as we keep tabs on the legislative landscape in the weeks ahead.
Publication Date: 10/19/2021