Promising news on federal funding

By Jim Hermes

Funding for Pell and Perkins increases in the final version of the appropriations bill.

Congressional negotiators have approved the final version of the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Labor, HHS and Education (LHHS) appropriations bill, and the news is mostly good for community colleges.

The bill, which is joined with the FY 2019 Department of Defense appropriations legislation in a two-bill “minibus,” will be considered by the Senate next week and on the House floor the following week. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the LHHS bill should be enacted before the beginning of the federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1. This would be the first time that has happened since 1996.

Effects on Pell

The full Senate and the House appropriations committee had each approved their own versions of the LHHS spending bill earlier this year. The Senate bill increased overall funding by $2 billion, while the House bill was level with last year. Contrary to prior reports, which indicated that the final legislation (technically a “conference report”) would include the Senate’s funding total, the conference report spends $178.1 billion on the LHHS programs, an increase of about $800 million over FY 2018.

The bill’s biggest highlight is a $100 increase in the Pell Grant maximum award, to $6,195, for the 2019-20 academic year. The maximum award has increased $275 in the last two years. These increases were essentially funded by the surplus that the program is currently running. The FY 2019 LHHS bill also rescinds $600 million from that surplus to spend on other programs.

Other Department of Education programs of great interest to community colleges also saw increases. In many cases, these increases split the difference between the prior House and Senate versions of the legislation. For instance, the Senate bill contained increase of just over 2 percent for the Higher Education Act Title III and V programs, while funding for them was flat in the House bill. The conference report increases these programs, which include the Title III-A Strengthening Institutions program and the Title V Hispanic-Serving Institutions program, by 1 percent.

Bump up for Perkins

Similarly, the conference report increases funding for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Basic Grants by $70 million, which fell between the House’s increase of $102 million and flat funding in the Senate. Adult basic education, however, realized the full $25 million increase that was earmarked in the Senate bill. The Trio and GEAR-UP programs, longtime priorities of the House LHHS appropriations subcommittee chairman Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), were bumped up by $50 million and $10 million, respectively.

Funding for most Department of Labor workforce training programs was flat, as was the case in the House and Senate bills. The department’s apprenticeship grants program received an increase of $15 million, to $160 million.

The DOD/LHHS legislation also contains a continuing resolution that will continue FY 2018 funding levels for the departments covered by as many as seven of the 12 appropriations bills. At least five appropriations measures, packaged into minibuses, are expected to pass before October 1.

This article was originally posted to CC Daily.

Jim Hermes

is the associate vice president for government relations at AACC.