Washington Watch: Parameters for federal funding

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s approval of the fiscal year 2019 (FY19) Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) appropriations bill gives us a clearer view of how important community college programs may fare in the annual funding process.

With the House Appropriations Committee having also approved its version of the bill after an arduous markup, it is possible that both bills may see floor consideration in their respective chambers for the first time in a long time.

As anticipated, funding levels for many important community college programs are level from the current fiscal year, which saw marked increases in many programs due to the two-year budget deal that significantly increased domestic spending in FY18 and FY19. So, the name of the game for many programs would be to maintain this year’s increases, as the overall funding level for the LHHS bill was essentially flat in FY19.

That said, there are gains for many programs contained within the two LHHS bills. Here’s a brief snapshot of where we stand now and some of those key issues yet to be resolved:

  • Pell grants: As was the case last year, the Senate LHHS appropriations bill would raise the maximum Pell Grant by $100, while the House bill would keep it at $6,095 (an increase of $175 from FY17). Also, like last year, that increase would come by tapping the Pell Grant surplus. The Senate would also take $600 million from the surplus to fund other programs.
  • Perkins Career and Technical Education and Adult Education: The Perkins programs would see a nice $115-million bump up in the House bill, $102 million of which would go to the Basic State Grants. Perkins funding is flat in the Senate bill, but it does contain a healthy $25 million increase for the Adult Basic Education program.
  • Other Higher Education Act (HEA) programs: The Senate bill is slightly more generous to the HEA Title III and Title V programs, with a 2.2 percent increase across the board. Funding for these programs is level in the House bill. Funding is flat for Federal Work Study and the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant in both bills. TRIO and GEAR-UP, longtime priorities of House LHHS appropriations subcommittee chair Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), are increased in the House bill. The Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program, which received one of the largest percentage increases in FY18, would stay even at $50 million in FY19 in both bills. The initial version of the House bill cut this program by $13 million, but appropriators restored that cut in the version of the bill that passed the House committee.
  • Department of Labor (DOL): The core programs authorized by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are level funded at $2.8 billion in both bills. The House and Senate legislation increase funding for the apprenticeship grants by $5 and $15 million, respectively.

A compromise bill and beyond

Regardless of how the legislative process unfolds, congressional appropriators must resolve the differences between the two bills and pass final legislation later this year. The American Association of Community Colleges’ advocacy during this time will focus on combining the best parts from each bill in this ultimate package. The ideal legislation, then, would include an increase in the maximum Pell Grant, increased resources for Perkins CTE, Adult Basic Education, the HEA Title III and Title V programs, TRIO, GEAR-UP and the DOL apprenticeship grants.

Unlike last year, a new tranche of money will not materialize that will allow Congress to greatly exceed the levels set in legislation to date. And looking forward, Congress must do something to avoid a significant funding decrease in FY20. New estimates that project the federal deficit to top $1 trillion in FY19 will not make this any easier.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.