Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

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Where are we on DACA?
The higher education community has long championed the safety and security for the nation's 780,000 undocumented individuals known as Dreamers. We support passing the Dream Act and securing an extension to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was scheduled to expire on March 5. But the February 14 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL shifted focus from DACA to gun control on Capitol Hill.

At the moment, the fate of the DACA program remains uncertain. On February 26, the Supreme Court halted President Trump’s appeal of an appellate judge’s ruling that the Federal government must keep DACA in place. For now, DACA recipients do not have to worry about deportation. While this does not resolve the issue, it is a limited reprieve.

Efforts to save DACA continue behind the scenes. As recently as March 14, President Trump said that he would accept a three-year extension of DACA for current recipients if it was linked to funding for the border wall in the pending FY18 Omnibus appropriations bill. It remains to be seen whether or not a resolution for DACA will emerge during this process.

AJCU will continue to work with the higher education community to advocate for the extension of DACA. Passing the Dream Act as permanent policy is preferable but given the resistance from the majority of Congress, extending the DACA program on a temporary basis seems more likely.

Appropriations process inches closer to the March 23 CR deadline
The current Continuing Resolution (CR) signed into law in December 2017 extends FY 2018 funding for the Federal government until March 23. This deadline is fast approaching and there is no desire to consider another CR as a short-term fix. According to recent reports, the congressional appropriations committees agreed to overall funding levels, with the exception of a few programs within the Labor, Health & Human Services (H&HS) and Education appropriations bill. Ten policy riders attached to this bill remain undecided as well.

The temporary budget agreement in February resolved funding levels for the defense and non-defense discretionary sides of the budget: Defense received $80 billion in addition to its current $549 billion budget while the non-defense discretionary side received $63 billion in addition to its current $516 billion budget.

This FY 2018 Omnibus appropriations bill is critical for higher education because Federal student aid programs receive funding through the Labor, H&HS and Education bill. We hope that the Pell grant maximum award will increase by $100 from $5,920 to $6,020. We are not certain whether the campus-based aid programs will remain funded. Both the House and Senate extended current funding of $773 million for the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program, which provides funding for the neediest of students. The Federal Work Study program also received level funding in the House and Senate bills.

The Perkins loan program was not reauthorized by Congress and expired in September 2017. Institutions are now in the process of returning Perkins loans to the Federal government. The FY18 Omnibus appropriations bill is expected to be released this week; we will provide you with updates on final figures as soon they are made available.