Washington Watch: Community colleges emphasize need for new stimulus

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In response to a breakdown in negotiations over spending legislation related to the pandemic, national and state community college leaders are urging expeditious enactment of a supplemental appropriations bill. 

A letter encouraging action, signed by American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) President Walter Bumphus and 46 community college state systems and organizations, was sent Wednesday to Senate and House leaders and members of key congressional committees. 

Among other things, the letter stated that “COVID-19 has created drastic challenges on our campuses that the federal government has an irreplaceable role in redressing — costs have increased while revenues, including state and local government support, have plummeted. Institutions face an uncertain fall, as enrollments are expected to be significantly below those of recent years.”

The correspondence also outlined AACC’s and ACCT’s ongoing priorities in stimulus legislation. These include robust funding for higher education institutions distributed on the basis of headcount, support for Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act, and job training. AACC thanks its many members who have advocated for these priorities.

Political context

The executive orders issued last week by President Trump, which included student loan repayment, addressed some but not all of the high-profile congressional priorities, leaving pressure on Congress to act. Furthermore, some of the areas that the president’s action did address have been criticized by some as insufficient to meet their intended goals.    

In Congress, it is widely, if not universally, accepted that a compromise package would include close to $2 trillion in new spending, falling roughly between legislation advanced by Senate Republicans (HEALS Act) and the HEROES Act, H.R. 6800, passed by the House in late May. Leaders from both parties in both chambers have emphasized the importance of including education spending in the package.

Currently, it is unclear what might catalyze the enactment of compromise legislation. The upcoming national party conventions create a formidable obstacle but do not preclude action later this month. 

However, enactment before Labor Day seems unlikely. Also, since incumbents generally benefit from the enactment of legislation, even setting aside the current extraordinary circumstances there are grounds for optimism, despite the current impasse.

AACC will continue to keep its members informed on these and all relevant issues as they develop.

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.