Washington Watch: Senate competition bill doesn’t include short-term Pell

Negotiations on a China competition bill that stakeholders hoped would extend Pell Grant eligibility to students in short-term programs have stalled. Instead, the Senate is poised to pass a slimmed-down bill that jettisons many of the provisions in the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, including a short-term Pell amendment added to the legislation by the House.

Since the House passed its version of the competition bill earlier this year, a House-Senate conference committee had been negotiating the contents of final legislation. Members of the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee were appointed to negotiate short-term Pell and other relevant provisions. However, on June 30, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted that Republicans would not back a competition bill as long as Democrats were pursuing partisan “reconciliation” legislation to address climate change and health care, bringing to the conference negotiations to a standstill.

After some back and forth between the parties, Senate Democrats decided to move forward with a much smaller bill that is centered around support for semiconductor manufacturing. Other provisions have been added to the so-called “CHIPS” bill but none of the education provisions, including short-term Pell.

The development is a significant setback for community colleges. The competition bill was the most likely vehicle to enact short-term Pell before the end of the current Congress. Congressional Democrats have indicated a desire to continue negotiating on the provisions that were not included in the CHIPS bill, but further action in that area as unlikely.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and its partners advocated strongly for the short-term Pell amendment and many community colleges participated in that effort. We thank you for those efforts. While the outcome of this particular effort is disappointing, there is still strong bipartisan support for enacting short-term Pell.

The House amendment that AACC supported, while not perfect, was the most politically viable option for passing something this year. Should that not happen, AACC plans to work with Congress again next year to move forward another version of the legislation.

About the Author

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