Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations

Crunch Time on the Hill
Congress returns this week after a six-week hiatus. At stake is the need to resolve funding to combat the Zika virus and provide a resolution for all FY17 funding bills before the rapidly approaching end of the fiscal year on September 30th. Most on Capitol Hill agree that shutting down the federal government, if Congress fails to resolve either or both funding imperatives, would be political suicide; thus, the next three weeks will be critical to resolving the first step toward reaching a final funding resolution.

Both the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, H&HS and Education marked up the appropriations bills in June and July, with a realization of an increase for the Pell grant maximum award by $120 over FY16. The Senate used some of the Pell grant surplus funding to fund Pell grants and other programs. Campus-based aid programs, including the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work Study, were level-funded in both the House and Senate bills at $733 million; TRIO was level-funded by the Senate and increased by $61 million by the House; GearUp was level-funded by the Senate and increased by $22 million by the House; Title II Teacher Partnerships were level-funded in the Senate and zeroed out by the House; and the International and Foreign Language Education programs were level-funded in the House and cut by $4.895 million in the Senate.

The ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus wants a Continuing Resolution (CR) until September 30, 2017, while the rest of House Republicans and Democrats want a CR after this year's election for November or December. We don’t yet know the outcome of the election, but it will surely guide the direction for FY17 appropriations. In the months ahead, AJCU will strive for continued funding for federal student aid and other higher education programs.

State Authorization Regulations
In our last Federal Relations report, we discussed the Labor Department’s overtime regulations as well as transgender student guidance from the Department of Education. On July 26th, the Department of Education released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on State Authorization for Distance Education. AJCU joined other higher education associations to comment on the American Council of Education’s letter to the Department. While there are fifty state authorization requirements for each state, it is a heavy expense for colleges and universities to authorize distance education programs for every student enrolled in the program. Luckily, the Department included Reciprocity Agreements for about forty states to resolve these complicated issues. These agreements are helpful to colleges and universities because they minimize cost and time, but larger states such as California, New York and Pennsylvania, have not yet agreed to them. The Department has to complete Final Rule by the end of October in order to meet the November 1st deadline for a July 1, 2017 compliance date.

AJCU Federal Relations Conference: September 21-22, 2016
The 19th annual AJCU Federal Relations Conference will be held on Capitol Hill on September 22nd, immediately following the annual Committee for Education Funding Legislative Conference and Gala on September 21st. This year’s conference will focus on HEA Reauthorization, taxes and regulations. Federal relations directors, legal counsels, presidents and financial aid directors are invited to attend. Please write to CyndyLit@aol.com for more information.