Washington Watch: Last shot for advocates at Senate stimulus package

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The stakes are high for community colleges as the U.S. Senate starts work in earnest this week on coronavirus stimulus “4.0” legislation. The final version of this bill will greatly affect the resources available to community colleges and their students as they cope with the ongoing pandemic. 

Despite all the unknowns that campus leaders face, one thing is known – acute financial pressures on community college campuses are only likely to grow in the coming months. Since passage of the CARES Act in late March, advocacy by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) for subsequent coronavirus-related funding legislation has fixed on two primary objectives: additional, flexible funds for institutions and students distributed via a headcount-based formula, and a community college-led workforce training program. 

Some of these (but no workforce program) were reflected in the House-passed HEROES Act, H.R. 6800. Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, included these priorities in their CARES Act, S. 4112

However, community college leaders must strongly advocate for these positions to include them in final Senate legislation, which will originate from that chamber’s Republican majority. 

What to watch

While Senate legislation will differ substantially from the HEROES Act – reports are the Senate Republicans’ initial proposal would spend about half what that legislation did – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said that education is a priority.

However, with the Trump administration’s and congressional Republicans’ focus on schools fully reopening in the fall, it’s uncertain whether education funding would come with conditions to reopen and whether they might apply to colleges. And while the bill will clearly emphasize jobs, the role that workforce training will play is less clear.

Immediately following Senate action (or during), House and Senate leadership, with White House involvement, will reconcile the two bills. All this is likely to happen in the next three weeks before Congress leaves for its August recess. 

AACC urges members to continue to convey these top priorities to Senate offices in the next few days. As always, a personal communication of any kind is best, particularly a direct call to the senator or a top staffer. 

If you would like any guidance in contacting Congress or background on your legislator, please reach out to AACC staff. You can also find AACC’s information on the advocacy process here. AACC’s primary funding objectives and the rationale for them are here. 

It helps if you can delineate or document to legislators why your campus needs financial assistance and how your college can help foster economic recovery if provided with the necessary resources.  

Working with your legislators now could bring large tangible assistance in the coming weeks. We encourage you to contact your senators and be ready to follow up with both the House and Senate when lawmakers make the final decisions on this legislation. 

It will likely be the last bill of this nature passed before the election and quite possibly this year. 

Washington Watch is written by AACC’s government relations office.

About the Author

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