Washington Watch: Not just the dog days


Congress this week began its annual August recess, leaving representatives and senators in their home districts and states until after Labor Day. As it is every year, the August recess is an excellent opportunity for community college leaders to meet with their congressional representatives and make their voices heard, and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) urges its members to do just that. A lot is at stake for community colleges when Congress returns to conduct business in Washington in September.

To facilitate these communications, AACC has prepared a brief document to inform its members about the most pressing issues to address with their representatives. The document can also serve as a “leave behind” that they can provide directly to members of Congress or their staff. 

Vastly different funding bills

When Congress returns, it will face a packed agenda of items to accomplish before the end of the year, particularly the annual appropriations bills. House and Senate negotiators must reconcile vastly different versions of the all-important Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and other appropriations bills.

The House bill makes large cuts to several higher education and workforce development programs that Congress should be urged to reject, but AACC is also emphasizing two programs that the House level funded but the Senate cut: the Strengthening Community College Training Grants and the HEA Title III-A Strengthening Institutions programs. Community colleges should strongly urge Congress to at least level fund these programs and enact the $250 maximum Pell Grant increase contained in the Senate bill.

Workforce Pell, Farm Bill and more

Beyond the annual funding bills, AACC is emphasizing three other issues where recent public and behind-the-scenes developments indicate potential Congressional action in the near-term. There continues to be broad support in Congress for expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students in shorter-term workforce development programs. The JOBS Act — the longest-standing bill in this area — was set to be marked up by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee just before the recess, but the markup was canceled for reasons not related to the bill.

In addition, House Education and the Workforce Committee leaders are talking about a compromise between the three workforce Pell bills that have been introduced in that chamber. Community college leaders must keep up the pressure on Congress to finally enact this widely supported policy.

Congress is also working on the Farm Bill, which most consider a must-pass measure, though partisan politics are potentially delaying its enactment. AACC is pushing for two items in the bill: inclusion of the bipartisan Community College Agriculture Advancement Act, which would authorize $20 million for community college agricultural workforce development programs, and enhanced access to the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program for college students.

Finally, there have been recent positive developments in AACC’s longstanding quest to make Pell grants completely tax-free. The key Tax-Free Pell Grant Act (H.R. 3000) has been introduced in the House with bipartisan support, and companion Senate legislation is expected to be introduced soon after Congress returns in September. In addition to making Pell grants entirely non-taxable, the legislation would fix a provision that limits the benefit of the American Opportunity Tax Credit for community college Pell Grant recipients. Community college leaders should exhort their representatives to cosponsor this legislation and build momentum towards including it in the next tax

About the Author

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