Government Relations Report: May-June 2016

FY 2017 Appropriations

This week the Senate Labor-HHS-Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee marked up its bill for the coming year. The bill was premised on the Budget agreement reached last year to add funds to both the defense and non-defense sides of the budget. The subcommittee’s FY 2017 allocation was $270 million less than last year’s, meaning that it had less money to work with. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Senior Democrat on the Committee, called the allocation “snug but fair.” Other more technical issues meant that the subcommittee was perhaps as much as $ 1 billion below last year’s level, making cuts inevitable. To mitigate the impact of these cuts, the Subcommittee chose to reduce the Pell Grant surplus by $1.2 billion (out of a total of $7.8 billion) as well as resort to other accounting mechanisms.

The Subcommittee mark up on Tuesday was uneventful. It rapidly became clear that Republicans and Democrats had developed a bi-partisan bill that met the three most pressing demands facing the Subcommittee: the desire to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion, provide funds to combat the opioid epidemic, and fund the provisions of the recently reauthorized Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Appropriations Committee report on the bill here.

The Full Appropriations Committee considered the bill on Thursday, June 9 and reported it to the Senate by a vote of 29-1 (only Senator Lankford of Oklahoma voted no). There were no changes to the Subcommittee’s work. Members of the Committee noted that it was the first Senate Labor-HHS bill in seven years to be reported out.

As we reported, the Committee froze both Adult Education state grants ($582 million) and funds for National Leadership Activities ($13.7 million) at the FY 2016 level. In addition, the bill includes a provision to reinstate the Year-Round Pell Grant, which allows students to receive a second grant to take a third semester of classes in an academic year, in order to graduate sooner. The program would reportedly affect approximately one million students, and the average recipient would be expected to receive $1,650 more in aid. The bill supports an increase in the maximum Pell Grant from $5,815 for the 2016-17 school year, to an estimated $5,935 for the 2017-18 school year.

It is worth noting that in her opening remarks, Senator Mikulski, the Committee’s senior Democrat talked about hard choices that needed to be made and said that should additional funds become available, the Committee would revisit some of its decisions. Senator Murray said that she was disappointed in the lack of additional funding for education and referred to the funding levels in the bill as “a floor to build on.”

Implicitly, both were referring to efforts by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to add $18 billion to the Defense budget, increase the military pay raise and stop cuts to the Army and Marine Corps. The proposal would have broken the budget agreement reached last year to maintain parity between defense and non-defense spending. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island offered an amendment to restore that parity by adding $18 billion in non-defense spending, including full funding for WIOA. Both amendments were defeated, but they do suggest that some kind of budget deal can be reached later in the year to add additional funds to both sides of the budget.

It is not known when or whether the Senate LHHS-ED bill will be considered on the Senate floor as a free standing bill. The House Labor-HHS Appropriations has not yet scheduled a mark up, but staff says they hope to move before the July 4 recess. As of this writing, staff say on record that the Subcommittee will not tap the Pell Grant surplus, meaning that there will inevitably be more cuts in the House bill than in the Senate bill.

Other Legislation

House and Senate progress toward a CTE reauthorization seems to have slowed. Rumors have it that the bill is getting caught up in election year politics, with each side fearful of giving the other a legislative victory. We are continuing to work with Senator Reed’s office on a package of amendments to the CTE bill that would make explicit the relationship between Adult Education and CTE. As we noted, on May 17, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing, “Helping Students Succeed by Strengthening the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.” Of particular interest, given our work with Senator Reed, was the testimony of Dr. Monty Sullivan, President, Louisiana Community and Technical College System. He recommended focusing the Perkins Act special populations provisions on adults with no high school diploma. From his testimony:

“Under the special populations provisions of the Perkins Act, consider focusing on key populations. Community colleges serve a broad cross section of people. Those most in need of training are often adults with no high school diploma and returning military veterans. Consider making specific allowances for these populations.”

ESRA remains stuck over privacy issues.

With the effective conclusion of Presidential primary season we have more or less entered what Washingtonians know as “silly season” when Presidential politics affects virtually all decisions the Congress makes and less and less gets done.

The Congress will recess in July for the Presidential conventions and will then take its traditional August recess, returning to Washington after Labor Day for about a month. Everyone knows that there will be a lame duck session in which final spending decisions will be made.

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