Washington Watch: Senate Republicans release FY 21 funding bills

Washington Watch is produced by the AACC office of government relations and policy analysis.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) on Tuesday released drafts of all 12 appropriations bills to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2021. 

The Senate has not acted on any of the 12 bills and has no plans to do so. Instead, the draft bills are intended to serve as the Senate Republicans’ starting point for negotiations with House appropriators on final FY 21 funding legislation. 

Congress must pass either another continuing resolution (CR), which provides funding until a designated date but not the entire fiscal year, or an omnibus funding bill for the full fiscal year, before the current CR expires on December 11. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) have both indicated support for an omnibus, year-long bill rather than a CR. 

The funding levels in the House and Senate bills are not dramatically different, since Congress is operating under a tight budget cap that increased overall domestic discretionary spending by only $5 billion compared to last year. However, there are differences between the parties on other issues, including to what extent the FY 21 bills should include additional pandemic relief and a host of policy changes (also known as “riders”) mostly favored by Democrats. 

A Pell Grant bump up

For community colleges, the all-important Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) appropriations bill was increased by $1.43 billion (0.8%), to $184.5 billion in base spending. Additional budget maneuvers provide another $10.6 billion in budget authority, for a grand total of just under $195.1 billion. 

The U.S. Education Department appropriation was increased by $433 million over last year, for a total of $73.2 billion. The bill’s highlights include a $150 increase in the Pell Grant maximum award, to $6,495 for the 2021-22 academic year. House legislation would increase the maximum grant by the same amount. Once again, Congress can raise the maximum grant by using a long-running surplus in the Pell Grant program. The bill also rescinds $300 million in prior year Pell Grant funds to help pay for other programs. 

The LHHS bill would increase the Perkins Career and Technical Education Basic State Grants by $75 million, which reflects a top priority of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). It also includes an across-the-board 1.9% increase in the Higher Education Act Titles III and V programs, including the Title III-A Strengthening Institutions program.

Other community college priorities, such as Federal Work-Study, adult basic education, TRIO, GEAR-UP and others would remain at last year’s funding levels. The legislation also calls to significantly increase funding for ED’s administration, which could ultimately benefit AACC members and community college students.  

More for apprenticeships

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) funding follows largely the same pattern as ED, with level funding for the bulk of its training programs, including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act formula funding streams. Apprenticeship grants would increase by $20 million to $195 million. About $10 million of that total is earmarked for the Trump administration’s industry-recognized apprenticeship program (IRAP), setting up a battle with Democrats who favor registered apprenticeships and have not supported IRAPs. Historically, the DOL grant money has been dedicated exclusively to registered apprenticeships

Disappointingly, the bill contains no funding for the Strengthening Community College Training Grants (SCCTG) program. SCCTG received $40 million last year, the program’s first, and was increased to $50 million in the House LHHS bill. Retaining funding for this program at the House level in final legislation will be a major focus of AACC’s advocacy in the coming weeks. 

About the Author

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