Government Relations Report: January-February 2016

January was relatively quiet. Congress was on recess for a good part of the month and was, in any event, basking in the glow of completing a Budget agreement, implementing that agreement in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, (also referred to as the Omnibus Appropriations bill), reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known as ESSA), and enacting a new highway and infrastructure bill.

In addition, Congress and the Administration laid the groundwork for this year, in which the Presidential election will soon take center stage. Congress will spend a lot of time out of session and campaigning for re-election. Nevertheless, it will need to focus on Budget and spending issues and may try to tackle a few other issues on which there appears to be some glimmer of bi-partisanship.

The Omnibus Appropriations bill, which funds the entire federal government for fiscal year 2016, was the product of an agreement between the Administration and Congressional leaders to raise the caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending by approximately $80 billion over two years. The final package funded Adult Basic Education State grants at $581.9 million and National Leadership Activities at $13.7 million. This is an increase of $13 million or 2.2 percent over last year. As we noted earlier, $582 million was more than either the House or Senate assumed earlier in the appropriations process and more than the Administration requested.

The bi-partisan budget agreement puts in place new caps for fiscal year 2017. This means that Congress now knows exactly how much money it will have to appropriate in fiscal year 2017. The Appropriations Committees still need to divide that money across the various subcommittees and the subcommittees need to decide how much to allocate to each individual program.

Some members of the House Freedom Caucus (generally regarded as the most conservative members of the Republican Caucus) have been quoted as saying that they might vote against the Congressional Budget Resolution which sets tax and spending limits, unless the caps are rolled back.

Last week, CQ reported that House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (KY), “warned that breaking from the budget caps in the fiscal 2017 budget resolution — as some conservatives advocate — would weaken the GOP’s leverage in adding policy riders to spending bills…” and that retreating from the topline discretionary limit in the budget deal would “be a one-way ticket to an omnibus. The Senate would never agree to the new number.”

Congress may not be in session long, but the year may hold its share of drama.

On February 9, the Administration released its FY2017 budget. They requested $582.0 million for Adult Education State Grants for fiscal year 2017, (the same as the 2016 level), but an increase in funding for National Leadership Activities from $13.7 million to $24.7 million, an increase of $11 million.

The Leadership money is intended to improve standards and assessments and carry out data collection activities authorized by AEFLA to support States in their efforts to improve adult education standards. It also includes $5 million to provide technical assistance to help States meet the WIOA requirement to align adult education content standards with the State determined academic standards for K-12 education required by Title I of ESEA.

Other Department of Education highlights in the Administration’s FY2017 budget include:

  • A proposed increase in English Language Acquisition state grant funds from $737.4 million to $800 million.
  • A requested increase of $75 million for CTE state grants.
  • $180 million for the Education Innovation and Research program, an increase of $60 million, or 50 percent to expand support for evidence-based initiatives to develop, validate, and scale up effective education interventions that will help states and local educational agencies to meet requirements under federal law.
  • The budget again proposes the America’s College Promise initiative, a partnership with states designed to make two years of community college free for responsible students. Students would be able to earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree and earn the skills needed to succeed in the workforce – at no cost. ACP also would provide grants to schools that support new low-income students, including those transferring from a community college. Students would be able to receive up to two years of college at these institutions at zero or significantly reduced tuition.
  • The budget proposes maximum Pell Grants adjusted for inflation beyond 2017.
  • A Pell for Accelerated Completion program, making year-round Pell Grant funds available to students who take a full course load and have used up their existing award.
  • The budget would provide an additional $300 Pell Bonus for students who stay on course to complete college on time by taking at least 15 credit hours per semester.
  • The Administration requests $209.3 million, an increase of $14.3 million over the fiscal year 2016 level, for the Research Development and Dissemination program. The RDD program identifies effective strategies for improving student learning in early childhood, K−12, postsecondary, and adult education and works to disseminate this information to policymakers and practitioners in ways that maximize its utility.

The FY 2017 budget also proposes significant new investments in job training — some entirely new, and some that were requested in last year’s budget proposal. The President also proposes investments in expanding apprenticeship, a focus on “opportunity youth,” and a workforce data initiative.

Department of Labor Highlights: New Initiatives

  • A $5.5 billion request for a new mandatory program to target job and skill training opportunities for youth, including $3.5 billion in formula funding for partnerships with employers and communities to support up to one million summer jobs and 150,000 year-round work experiences for out-of-school youth. It also includes a $2 billion competitive grant program for communities that would be administered jointly by the Departments of Labor and Education and would focus on dropout recovery strategies.
  • America’s Talent Compact: A $3 billion request targeting regional partnerships to train workers to meet local employers’ demand. The Administration proposes linking these efforts to WIOA requirements to focus and develop industry and sector training strategies. The Talent Compact would fund 50-60 regions a year, through competitive grants, to increase collaborations between workforce boards, employers, CTE programs, community colleges and economic development organizations.
  • Workforce Data Science and Innovation Fund: The President requests $500 million in mandatory funding to invest in tracking and updating data on workforce needs and trends. The system would be based on Health and Human Services Open Health Data Initiative and include partnership with Department of Commerce to share data collected.
  • Apprenticeship Training Fund: The Administration again asks for $2 billion to expand apprenticeship to double the number of apprentices nationally by 2019. This fund would include a new $200 million proposal targeting youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship; $1.3 billion for state-led strategies for increasing the number of employers using apprenticeship as a training system and $500 million targeting local and national partnerships to support apprenticeship.
  • Career Navigators: The president’s budget includes $1.5 billion over 5 years in mandatory funds to create a network of Career Navigators to specifically work with long-term unemployed and those who have left the labor force.

Proposals for Existing Programs

  • The administration requests funding at the FY17 authorized levels for the WIOA adult program, the Dislocated Worker Program, WIOA Youth formula grants, and the Employment Service 
  • Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI) and State Data Longitudinal Systems Grants – the Administration requests $40 million, an increase of $34 million over FY 2016 levels for WDQI grants.
  • Apprenticeship Grants: the Administration requests $90 million in funding, which would build on the $90 million in funding included in the FY 2016 omnibus.
  • The Administration requests $95 million, an increase of $7 million over FY 2016 enacted levels for the re-integration of ex-offenders. The additional resources would support expanded programs serving adult and juvenile offender in areas most impacted by recent “unrest.”
  • Indian and Native American Program – the Administration requests $52 million, an increase of $2 million over the FY 2016 enacted levels.
  • Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers Program – the Administration requests $ 81,896,000 million, consistent with FY 2016 levels.
  • The Administration freezes the YouthBuild program.

Health and Human Services

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): the President’s budget proposes to increase the TANF overall state block grant by $8 billion over five years, and would require states to spend at least 55 percent of combined federal and state funds on core benefits, including work activities.
  • The request would repurpose the current TANF Contingency Fund to, among other things, establish a $473 million “Pathways to Jobs” Initiative and invest $100 million in two-generation demonstration projects. The budget also calls for the establishment of a $2 billion “TANF Economic Response Fund,” similar to the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
  • Advancing Human Services Interoperability: the President proposes $10 million in discretionary funding to establish a Systems Innovation Center, to improve interoperability between programs including TANF, Child Care, Child Welfare and SNAP. The President’s proposal also includes $50 million in mandatory funding to create a Statewide Human Services Data System Grant Program intending to support states management of longitudinal data.

Republicans on the Hill have already declared the President’s Budget to be Dead on Arrival. Given that it is quite unlikely that the caps on discretionary spending will be raised, each of the new initiatives would have to compete with existing programs, making it very unlikely they would be funded. Similarly, this Congress does not appear inclined to create new mandatory, or entitlement, programs. The real impact of the President’s proposals may be to draw simply attention to what the Administration perceives to be pressing national needs.

Other Legislation

CTE Reauthorization: There is substantial energy behind CTE and the Senate is continuing to work on the bill on a bi-partisan basis. The House appears to have made less progress. The much-abbreviated legislative schedule, however, may work against a reauthorization in 2016.

ESRA:  Remains in limbo over concerns about student data privacy.

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