Washington Watch: House won’t consider Workforce Pell bill on Thursday

House chamber at the U.S. Capitol (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s note: On Wednesday night, The American Association of Community Colleges received word that the House has pulled back from floor consideration the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act, which was scheduled for a vote on Thursday. Stay tuned for updates. The following article was written earlier on Wednesday and explains the challenges the bill faced in a floor vote.

The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act (BWPA, H.R. 6585) is slated for consideration on Thursday by the full House. The bill is being considered under a “suspension of the rules,” meaning that it must receive support from two-thirds of the members present and cannot be amended.

The vote is expected to be close, with powerful voices coming out against the legislation due to its controversial “pay for.” Colleges with endowments of more than $500,000 per student would have to make “risk-sharing” payments to the federal government for any loan amounts that are not paid or forgiven under certain terms of conditions. The American Council on Education opposes the legislation in its current form, citing the “pay for.” 

Furthermore, the nation’s two largest teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – on Tuesday came out in opposition of the bill. They cited concerns that the “pay for” creates incentives for the wealthiest institutions – those subject to the risk-sharing scheme – to decrease enrollment of students from low-income backgrounds and to discourage students from pursuing jobs that would confer eligibility for public service loan forgiveness. The unions also cited concerns that low-quality programs would gain access to Pell dollars.

Alarmist arguments

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) feels the unions’ concerns are unfounded, as BWPA’s quality standards for short-term programs are far more exacting than those applied to all other federal student aid programs. While AACC does not support risk-sharing and hopes to work with policymakers to change the “pay for” as the legislation advances, the association remains unconvinced by fundamentally alarmist arguments that the bill will hamstring or otherwise impact the wealthiest institutions’ ability to enroll students of all economic backgrounds and to encourage them to find a program and career that aligns with their goals.

However, there is no doubting the influence of teachers unions, and there is evidence that a number of Democratic members’ offices have been swayed by their concerns.

Contact your member of Congress

To that end, AACC continues to ask all its members to communicate their support for the bill. With legislative business set to begin at noon ET and all votes set to conclude by 3 p.m., there is still time (albeit limited) to reach out to your member of Congress and help advance this critical policy change. In any outreach, colleges should underscore the following talking points:

  • 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. 

AACC will carefully monitor the House floor vote and keep members informed. Please contact the AACC Office of Government Relations if you have questions about the bill or how to support this effort.

About the Author

Kathryn Gimborys
Kathryn Gimborys is a government relations manager at the American Association of Community Colleges.
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