Congress is expected to vote on the FY 2017 (through September 30, 2017) omnibus appropriations bill by Friday (May 5, 2017). The Republican majorities in both chambers will need Democratic votes to ensure passage, which seems likely based on the funding levels, lack of “poison pill riders,” and that President Trump acquiesced last week on border wall and health care provisions.
The budget agreement, which staved off a potential government shutdown, clearly made student aid funding a priority. Highlights include:
- Reinstatement of Year-Round Pell Grants.
- Maintaining the maximum Pell Grant at $5,920.
- Level funding for the SEOG and Federal Work Study programs.
- Increased funding for TRIO and GEAR UP.
- Teacher preparation grants and international education are level funded; while graduate education and national and community service are slightly cut.
- Research programs are prioritized in the final funding bill as well, with increases or level funding for the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, NOAA, and NASA.
- The budgets for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts were each increased by $2 million.
Congress also included language to guide how the Department of Education implements some programs:
- The Department is now required to issue guidance on implementing Year-Round Pell to ensure “maximize[d] flexibility for institutions of higher education and avoid unnecessary administrative burdens while ensuring the best interests of students”.
- With regard to TRIO grants, the bill directs the Department to increase the awards for all current grantees, and increase the number of new grants awarded in the next competition, but does not fund the demonstration program sought by the Obama Administration.
- Congress also includes a provision to allow student loan borrowers to choose their loan servicer when they decide to consolidate loan payments.
Once this bill is signed into law, the Trump Administration will finalize its FY 2018 (October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018) detailed budget, which is expected to be released in about three weeks. Many of the education programs in the administration’s preliminary budget targeted for cuts or elimination are funded in the final FY 2017 deal. (Source: NAICU, May 1, 2017)