Washington Watch: AACC’s top 5 priorities for next stimulus bill

Photo: Matthew Dembicki/AACC

Even as community colleges are just beginning to implement the funds provided through the CARES Act, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is asking Congress to help support campuses and students as lawmakers respond to COVID-19. While the legislative timetable for another piece of stimulus-style legislation is unclear, it is certain that Congress will take further action in the coming weeks. 

AACC will host a webinar on April 16 at 1:00 p.m. EDT that will cover both the ongoing implementation of the CARES Act as well as AACC’s policy priorities for the next stimulus bill. 

Stimulus 4.0 priorities 

AACC’s five top priorities include:  

Greater institutional and student support to cope with the pandemic. Community colleges and their students are thankful for the support provided for higher education through emergency formula grants in the CARES Act. This support benefits students as well as institutions. However, greater assistance is badly needed and community colleges support $46.6 billion in additional funding through the CARES formula. Increased funding must be matched by policies that ensure states maximize their financial commitment to higher education. The needs of small, largely rural community colleges also should be reflected.

Dedicated workforce education funding for a TAACCCT successor. Community colleges are essential to addressing the millions of suddenly unemployed individuals and widespread business closures. Congress should provide $1 billion for each of the next two years for a program modeled on the highly successful Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Program. The program should allow institutions to offset tuition costs, include both credit and non-credit programs and emphasize the attainment of industry-recognized credentials, employment and increased earnings.

Student aid enhancement. Community colleges seek $5 billion in dedicated financial aid for students during the economic crisis, distributed through the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program. Funds should be distributed to institutions based upon their relative share of Pell Grant recipients rather than the current formula. Congress also should authorize the Department of Education (ED) to provide special access to the Pell Grant program for individuals who are unemployed or recently dislocated from their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Furthermore, Congress should establish Pell Grant eligibility for short-term education and training programs, which will be extremely valuable to individuals impacted by the economic crisis.

Relief for distressed student loan borrowers. Many student loan borrowers, particularly those from low-income backgrounds or who have not yet completed their degrees, now face a daunting labor market. Congress should support these borrowers by providing additional relief beyond that in the CARES Act, including student loan forgiveness. Policies should emphasize the needs of low-income, low-balance borrowers, who continue to have the greatest challenges repaying their loans.   

Temporarily enhance higher education tax credits for training opportunities. The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and Lifetime Learning Tax (LLC) credits should be changed at least temporarily to better assist community college students impacted by the pandemic. They are not served optimally by the current credits. The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) should be modified to cover 100 percent of the first $2,000 of eligible expenses, which would provide more support for the part-time and non-credit students who attend community college to enhance their skills. Ironically, the LLC was created for just these students, though the credit does not provide commensurate support. The AOTC should be increased from $2,500 to $3,000, with refundability increased from 40 percent to 60 percent. Also, the taxation of the non-tuition portion of grants and scholarships should be suspended for the next two years.

What you can do to help

Visit AACC’s advocacy page for more details about contacting your members of Congress in support of these priorities.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.