Washington Watch: Close vote expected on House Workforce Pell bill

As the full House prepares to act on the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act (BWPA, H.R. 6585), the bill’s offset or “pay for” continues to threaten its prospects of passage.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) continues to strongly support this legislation and asks all its members to communicate their support for the bill. The legislation needs two-thirds of those voting to pass, as it will be considered under “suspension of the rules.” The primary reasons for AACC’s support include the following, which you can use in communications to members of Congress:

  • BWPA will enable thousands of workers to access programs that will quickly allow them to get a new job or progress in their current one. Despite community colleges’ low tuition, the cost of these programs remains a barrier for many prospective students.
  • Workforce Pell will help employers that are struggling to find skilled workers. At the end of last year, there were 9 million unfilled job openings in the United States.
  • Workforce Pell programs would be subject to the strictest program quality standards, in addition to the thorough vetting they are routinely subject to at the state and local levels.
  • BWPA requires programs to have a path forward for workers who wish to further their education.
  • The program adds only marginal cost to the Pell Grant program – less than 1% of current expenditures.  

Vocal opponents

The changing dynamics around the legislation reflect the continuing political influence of the nation’s most elite and well-resourced private colleges. The colleges that would be affected by the bill’s “pay for” are those that have endowments of more than $500,000 per student — something that no community college is close to.  Under the legislation, these institutions would be required to make “risk-sharing” payment to the federal government for any loan amounts that were not paid or forgiven under certain terms of conditions. The vast majority of loans at the wealthiest colleges are repaid fully by former students, though some are forgiven in certain circumstances. 

AACC opposes the risk-sharing provision in H.R. 6585. But it is abundantly clear that this provision will not make its way to the president’s desk — assuming the bill is acted on by the Senate and then reconciled with a House version — and AACC does not oppose the legislation based on this offset alone. And, while even though AACC has communicated its support for the bill (and, again, asks campus to do likewise) the American Council on Education opposes the legislation in its current form.

The House floor vote will occur on Wednesday or Thursday. Please contact AACC if you have any questions about this or related issues. We will continue to keep you informed.

About the Author

David Baime
David Baime is senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.
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