By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU
Clock is Ticking to Save the Dreamers
On September 5, 2017, President Trump rescinded the Obama-initiated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection program for undocumented individuals (known as Dreamers). He announced that Congress would have six months (until March 5) to resolve this issue. The majority in both chambers gave priority to passing a tax bill at the end of last session, leaving little time to focus on DACA and other critical issues such as the year-end budget agreement (fiscal year 2018 appropriations). While Democrats continued the rallying cry to resolve DACA, appropriations demanded attention in order to prevent a government shutdown before the holidays. The House and Senate passed a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the federal government open (signed into effect on December 22), but it did not include a resolution for DACA.
Last Friday (January 19), the CR expired and the government was temporarily shut down. On Monday, January 22, Congress enacted a stopgap bill that will fund the government through February 8; the President later signed it into law. Over the next few weeks, both Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate will continue to negotiate terms for a resolution on DACA.
In recent months, the higher education community, including AJCU, has lobbied extensively on DACA. We have conducted targeted strategies and provided resources on our websites, including talking points to continue raising awareness of the plight of our students who fear the life-changing consequences and uncertainty surrounding DACA's expiration. Many Dreamers are students, service members or workers whose permits are expiring but make important contributions to society. They know no other country than the United States, and it would be unjust to send them back to countries they left as children through no decision or fault of their own.
AJCU institutions have a long-standing commitment to our DACA students, which follows the Jesuit tradition of educating people from under-served communities. To that end, AJCU continues updating our DACA resource page to share their stories and recent developments in Congress: ajcunet.edu/daca.
AJCU is encouraging Jesuit institutions to continue their advocacy efforts and to show a groundswell of support. DACA remains a leading priority for AJCU, and we will continue working for and championing Dreamers until a resolution for these deserving individuals is finally resolved.
Tax Bill Races to Completion
Before the Christmas recess, both houses of Congress passed H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which lowered rates for corporations and high wage earners. Despite early versions of the bill proposing to eliminate tax benefits for students and institutions, higher education fared better than expected.
One key priority for our institutions was saving Section 117(d), tuition remission for employees at Jesuit institutions. Fortunately, we were successful in this effort. Section 127 was also saved: this covers employer assistance to employees.
The higher education community also fought to save student benefits such as the Student Loan Interest Deduction (SLID), the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and graduate assistance payments without taxation. Fortunately, graduate, medical and law students prevailed over uncertain outcomes in the final package. Institutions were also relieved that the private activity bonds used to fund infrastructure projects on nonprofit campuses were saved.
Unfortunately, the tax bill established a new precedent by taxing non-profit institutions with an excise endowment tax of 1.4 percent. The tax affects institutions with at least 500 students and endowments with assets of more than $500K for each full-time undergraduate student. We are also concerned that the alteration of the standardized deduction may limit future charitable donations from individuals to colleges and universities.
While the full impact of this tax bill is still unknown, the higher education community is relieved thus far to maintain critical tax credits for students.