The U.S. Senate this week began to move a temporary funding measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR). The legislation would keep appropriations at current year (fiscal year FY 2022) levels through December 16.
Between now and then, there is hope that Congressional appropriators can agree to a regular appropriations vehicle — likely a large “omnibus” package of individual funding bills, including the key measure for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education — for FY 2023, which starts October 1.
Passage of a regular appropriations bill before the adjournment of the current Congress is important for community colleges. While a CR would carry over current funding levels in FY 2022, an omnibus funding package will likely deliver higher funding levels for critical education and workforce programs. Most significantly, this could mean an increase in the Pell Grant maximum of $500, up from the current $6,895, for the award year that starts July 1.
But there are other potential significant increases that could come with a regular appropriations bill. These include the Strengthening Community College Training Grants program, Title III-A of the Higher Education Act (Strengthening Institutions), Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools (CCAMPIS) program and others.
A regular appropriations bill enacted in 2022 would also facilitate more timely and effective program administration by the executive branch and allow numerous grant competitions to proceed.
What a CR won’t include
Finally, a regular appropriations bill will almost certainly contain the “community project funding” that was adopted last year — a return to what previously was known as earmarks. Scores of community colleges have earmarks pending in House- and Senate-proposed FY 2023 appropriations legislation. For procedural reasons, a continuing resolution would mark the death knell of these projects.
The CR does not include funds requested by the Biden administration for the U.S. Education Department (ED) to administer the debt cancellation policy announced last month. Given the scale of the effort, President Joe Biden is expected to continue to press for this funding.
Expectations now are that the Senate will pass the CR on Thursday, send it to the House for passage Friday, and, hopefully, the president’s signature before the current fiscal year ends. The White House has indicated its intention to sign the CR as agreed to in the Senate.
Before the current CR was advanced, there was discussion of extending the 2022 funding levels through 2023, which would be of potential benefit to Republicans, who hope to gain control of one or both chambers of Congress next year. This CR means that the government will be funded through the November elections and that Congressional appropriators will revisit funding decisions in the lame-duck session.
AACC will continue to push for a full FY 2023 spending package to deliver increases to our colleges and important programs.
Loan cancellation price tag
Also this week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) formally estimated the cost of Biden’s loan cancellation plan at $400 billion. According to CBO, 95% of student loan borrowers will qualify for cancellation, 90% of eligible borrowers will apply for debt cancellation, 65% of eligible borrowers received at least one Pell Grant, and 45% of eligible borrowers will see their entire balance wiped away. This last category will certainly include most community college student borrowers. CBO noted that its estimates are “highly uncertain.”
This estimate underscores the immense cost of the loan cancellation plan. For purposes of comparison, CBO’s current cost of the Pell Grant program for FY 2022 is $27.4 billion. ED continues to state that a cancellation application will be available sometime in October.