Washington Watch: Congress releases final appropriations bills


Congress on Thursday released text and accompanying report language for the six fiscal year (FY) 2024 appropriations bills it had not yet passed, including the all-important Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS-ED) appropriations bill.

Congress is now racing to pass the combined bills before the end of the week to avoid, or at least minimize, a partial government shutdown.

The bills adhere to funding caps set last year in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which essentially provide the same funding as in FY 23. Therefore, most programs of interest to community colleges are funded at the same amount as last year. This includes longstanding priorities such as Trio, GEAR-UP, Adult Basic Education, Childcare Access Means Parents in School, the Workforce Innovation Act state funding streams, Department of Labor (DOL) apprenticeship grants and others.

Level funding, for the most part

The maximum Pell Grant award is kept steady at $7,395. Congress provided the same amount of money for the program as it has for several years, but that is no longer sufficient to increase the maximum award. The program surplus that has enabled recent maximum increases has dwindled due to recent changes in need analysis via the Simplification Act that substantially raised the program’s cost.

The Strengthening Community College Training Grants (SCCTG) program is also level-funded at $65 million. This is a very welcome outcome, as the program was slated for a $10 million cut in the Senate LHHS-ED appropriations bill. The American Association of Community Colleges thanks the many campus officials who lobbied on behalf of this program.

Unfortunately, the Higher Education Act Title III-A Strengthening Institutions Program suffered the opposite fate. It, too, was reduced by $10 milllion (to $112 million) in the Senate and level-funded in the House. Unlike with the SCCTG program, here the $10 million reduction was included in the final bill. Other Title III programs received small increases. Notably, of the approximately $4.5 million increase for historically black colleges and universities, $3 million is reserved for community colleges.

The Perkins CTE program Basic State Grants were increased by $10 million (to $1.44 billion), though Perkins overall was cut by $10 million due to a $20 million decrease in national programs.

Nursing directive, earmarks

The bill’s accompanying report includes a directive to the Health Resources and Services Administration  (HRSA) to make information available online within 180 days of the bill’s passage on the “participation of community colleges in programs for increasing the supply of the nursing workforce.” AACC worked with Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-Arizona) to include this report language and is following up with HRSA on this directive.

The bill also includes Community Project Funding grants (aka “earmarks”), though they are substantially reduced from last year. The FY 24 bill contains $202 million in earmarks through the Education Department, down from $430 million last year. DOL earmarks amount to roughly half of last year’s.

After a tremendous amount of uncertainty and feverish advocacy, overall FY 24 funding results represent a steady-state outcome that was not preordained at the beginning of the year. For that, institutions and students have reason to be thankful and to appreciate the importance of making the case to Congress.  And, for better or for worse, the start of the next fiscal year is barely six months away.

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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