Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

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Appropriations at Front and Center
Over the summer, Congress made a concerted effort to move appropriations bills toward completion before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. When Congress cannot complete an appropriations bill before that deadline, a Continuing Resolution (CR) can extend a program’s authorization. Otherwise, incomplete bills are included in an omnibus bill. If the President and Congress cannot agree to either, the federal government will close without the necessary funding to operate. In an election year like this, every effort is made to complete the appropriations process in order to avoid that fate. As of this writing, five bills are complete, including the FY19 Labor, HHS and Education bill, which was passed by the House Appropriations Committee on July 11.

For higher education, the maximum Pell grant award was level-funded at $6,095 (same as FY18). Among campus-based aid programs, the federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program was level-funded at $840 million, and the Federal Work Study program (FWS) was level-funded at $1.03 billion. In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received a $1.25 billion increase in funding.

The Senate version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill includes a $2 billion increase over the House bill, with a $100 increase on the Pell grant maximum award to $6,195. Year-round Pell grants also received funding, as did summer Pell grants. These two Pell programs are helpful to students who want to graduate early. The campus-based aid programs, SEOG and FWS, received the same level-funding as the House. NIH also received an increase of $2 billion from the Senate.

The Senate merged FY19 Labor, H&HS and Education appropriations with the Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations into a “mini-bus.” This is the first time in recent memory that these two appropriations bills were combined. Whether this unusual linkage will bring about a faster resolution remains to be seen. As of this writing, the House and the Senate have tentatively agreed to accept Senate education figures. The conference to reconcile these two appropriations bills was tentatively scheduled for the week of September 10, but that may be delayed to the last week of the month due to Hurricane Florence and Yom Kippur.

What may throw a hitch into appropriations is President Trump’s demand of $5 billion in funding for a border wall to be built between Mexico and the United States. Lucky for higher education, funding for the wall would have to originate in Homeland Security appropriations. The President said that he will shut down the government if the funding is not included. As of this writing, it remains to be seen how this will be resolved by September 30.

AJCU Federal Relations Network Conference: September 26-27
The 21st annual AJCU Federal Relations Conference is scheduled for September 26-27. Members of the AJCU Federal Relations Network, including government relations officers, financial aid directors and legal counsels will meet in Washington, D.C. for the gathering, which will follow the annual legislative conference and gala hosted by the Committee for Education Funding (CEF). Discussions will focus on the budget and appropriations, re-authorization of the Higher Education Act, regulations, DACA and the Dream Act, and taxes. This conference provides an opportunity to network with professionals from fellow Jesuit institutions, and to work together in pursuit of common goals.